After three successful years splitting time as a starter and relief pitcher, Jake Ruckle has…
Brown Adapting to the Next Level
Brown, a 24-year-old, 6-foot-6 starting pitcher in his third season of pro ball, was drafted by the Mets in the 18th round of the 2005 draft out of Wingate University. Despite his size, Brown has always relied more on control and movement than velocity, and that may have contributed to his early struggles in 2008, his first season at Double-A.
Brown finished 10-8 with a 4.13 ERA at St. Lucie last season, bringing his impressive career totals to 23-13 with a 3.28 ERA in 41 games started and 72 total appearances. But he allowed a total of nine runs in 7 1/3 innings in his first two starts with the B-Mets, and in his worst start of the season, against Connecticut on May 3, was knocked around for nine runs on 11 hits, leaving without escaping the fifth inning. His ERA sits at 5.88 through nine starts, and at 6.85 for May.
Welcome to Double-A, kid.
Well, sort of: it's not that hitters are that much more talented than what Brown saw last season, but umpires are calling things a little differently.
"For me, the biggest difference, and I've talked to a couple guys here like [Jake] Ruckle about this, is the strike zone," Brown says. "The zone's a lot smaller. Other than that, the guys hit mistakes more often."
Because Brown isn't overpowering, mistakes are the one thing he has to limit. He throws a heavy sinker, a slider, a changeup and a four-seam fastball, sticking primarily to the sinker and the slider. As that type of pitcher, it's important that Brown remember not to try to do too much.
"Brown is a strike thrower, he's got plus movement and it's a matter of being consistent down in the zone and hitting the spot," says B-Mets pitching coach Ricky Bones. "Sometimes with a guy like him, he tries too do too much with the movement."
"Brownie's a sinker-ball guy, everything is kind of based off of that," says B-Mets catcher Rafael Arroyo. "I stay aggressive with Brownie's sinker, get some ground balls. He's got a really good slider and a changeup, and we mix in a curveball every now and then."
Three starts ago, before Brown started to put it together, he allowed five runs on 10 hits to Erie (though came away with a win). As could be expected, he was just making too many mistakes, and the Seawolves weren't letting any get by.
"I don't know, I had good stuff," Brown says. "Every time I made a mistake they hit it and they hit it hard, just making mistakes when I can't afford to. I got to be as close to perfect as can be with my stuff."
Brown's recent success might be due to some mechanical adjustments. He was having trouble getting fully extended and finishing his pitches, which left them lifeless.
"Everything's flat when you're not getting extended," he says. "The sinker doesn't sink, it stays flat over the middle. I can't locate my slider; the changeup does the same thing, it just stays flat. It's kind of tough to have good stuff when I'm not getting extended out there."
Strikeouts will never be a large part of Brown's game: he entered this season with 205 in 310 2/3 innings, and has just 28 in his 49 innings this season. But, he always limits walks, with no more than two in an outing this season and 78 total for his career. Additionally, Brown has proved durable thanks to his size—he threw 143 2/3 innings last season, fifth-most in the Florida State League.
After allowing four hits in 5 1/3 innings his second most recent outing, Brown worked into the seventh against Portland on Wednesday, striking out a season-high six, walking just one and allowing five hits.
Though 2008 is Brown's first season at Double-A, he did have a comfort zone through his early struggles and now in better times, with several teammates from last season also making the jump.
"We got a pretty close group of guys, everybody's pretty much friends," Brown says. "The players I played with last year—it's nice to stay with the same guys."
After the 2008 season, still a ways off, Brown may play winter ball for the first time. He was unable to last off-season as he finished up his degree in sports management.
"I wanted to get it out of the way so later on down the road I could play winter ball and not worry about that, just get it out of the way," Brown says. "Now my off-season's free, it's devoted to baseball pretty much."
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