Mariners’ Matt Brash has learned to trust his stuff, excel as reliever
After starting the season as the Mariners’ No. 5 starting pitcher, Matt Brash is impacting the big league club in a major way in the second half of the season – but not by taking the ball every fifth day.
After a rocky start to his MLB career as a starter due largely to struggles with his command, Brash was demoted to Triple-A Tacoma to convert to a bullpen role. Since being called back up in early July, Brash has been stellar with a 1.96 ERA and 26 strikeouts to seven walks in 18 1/3 innings. He also has yet to allow a home run as a reliever and has yielded just one extra-base hit. Brash is also seeing more time as a high-leverage reliever.
So what’s been the big difference for Brash since converting to a reliever? He pulled the curtain back on his in-season transformation with Seattle Sports 710 AM’s Wyman and Bob on Wednesday.
Becoming a reliever “definitely was an adjustment,” Brash said, but the change and his demotion have helped him in a big way.
“I think the whole thing for me was just getting more innings under my belt,” he said. “Obviously my stuff at the beginning of the year was a little all over the place, but I went down to Triple-A, kind of worked on some stuff and then when I got back to the big leagues (the focus was) kind of just getting confidence that I could get big league hitters out. And then these past couple of weeks and even months have been really, really good and I’m just kind of trying to keep this thing going.”
Brash showed electric stuff as a starter, armed with a mid- to upper-90s fastball and two hard breaking balls, but he had trouble finding the strike zone as a starter. Now, Brash is throwing his pitches for strikes and has better trust in his stuff, he said.
“Just recently I’ve just been really aggressive in the zone, kind of wanting contact and then when I do get two strikes and kind of shoot my shot to get a strikeout (I expand the zone),” Brash said. “But I think it’s just filling up the zone, trusting my stuff, being really aggressive, kind of seeing success and getting that confidence has been the big thing.”
Getting the command for his breaking pitches has been especially key, and it took a while for that to come to fruition.
“Each outing, maybe the shape is a little different … and now that I’m in the bullpen, I’m throwing my off-speed pitches harder than I was starting,” he said. “Like my slider is up to like 90 mph, so it was just a little period where I had to get used to starting my slider in different spots. And maybe it’s not breaking as much anymore because it’s harder, so it’s kind of just like as my pitches change and as I develop into a big league pitcher, it’s kind of just been getting a feel for them back. But like I said, these last couple of weeks I’ve felt really comfortable and I feel like I’ve kind of harnessed the command on those things.”
The bullpen has been a major strength for the Mariners for two seasons now, and for Brash, it’s his first time ever being a reliever. So what’s it like working with that group of guys?
“I had never been in the bullpen before so I didn’t really know how it was going to be, but we have a great time out there,” he said. “As the game goes on, we definitely lock it in when we’re about to go in, but early on, we like to keep it loose and kind of just hang out with each other. And then as the game goes on in the fourth and fifth (innings) when it’s kind of our time to do our thing, we all dial it in and have our routines and stuff. But it’s been a lot of fun. All those guys are great. We’ve got young guys and older guys so it’s just a really cool dynamic and it’s fun to be a part of, for sure.”
Brash and his fellow bullpen members have noticed more buzz at T-Mobile Park as the Mariners have gotten on a roll, entering September in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
“I was talking to some of my friends from back home and they were watching the game on TV and they were just saying how big the crowds looked,” Brash said. “And I was describing. like, it’s kind of crazy. We just had some random day game on a Wednesday and it was like a sold-out crowd. So the support has been insane. And for the players, that means a world of difference, kind of just getting our adrenaline going and knowing that the city is behind us and everything. It’s been pretty amazing, to be honest. It feels like a playoff atmosphere almost every day.”
Listen to the full conversation at this link or in the player below.