There’s nothing flashy about Steven Brault. The last three times I’ve seen the left-hander, including today’s debut in Bradenton, he has been working heavily with the sinker. The pitch sits in the mid-to-upper 80s, which pales in comparison to the mid-90s level that it seems like almost every other pitcher in the system can hit. But the sinker doesn’t need a ton of velocity because of the movement Brault gets from the pitch.
That was apparent today early in Brault’s outing. He gave up a leadoff single, then struck out the next three batters. He finished with five strikeouts in 4.1 innings on the day, either getting a lot of swings and misses with the sinker, or just fooling people with the pitch. Brault was cruising until the fifth inning, when the St. Lucie hitters finally got to him.
“I thought he did a nice job keeping them off-balance,” Bradenton manager Michael Ryan said. “Keeping the ball down and getting the ball on the ground. I think he got a little bit tired [in the fifth inning].”
Brault usually throws his sinker at the knees, although it features late break. It arrives at the plate at knee level, then drops off the table at the last-minute with a quick cut. Ryan described it as almost having changeup action.
“It looks like it’s up in the zone out of his hand,” Ryan said. “It’s a difficult pitch to lay off of, especially when you mix the speeds with a two seamer. That’s advanced, that stuff.”
Pitching coach Scott Elarton mentioned that the opposing club’s tendencies definitely helped Brault today.
“It’s a good pitch for him, especially against an aggressive club like St. Lucie,” Elarton said. “They hunt the fastball, and they want to get on it early, and that pitch kind of is an equalizer for him.”
Brault ran into some trouble in the fifth inning, although it wasn’t entirely his fault. He gave up a hit on a ground ball that kicked past Wyatt Mathisen at third. A hard grounder to short could have gotten two outs, but JaCoby Jones bobbled the play, then threw high to second, and didn’t get a single out. The very next play saw the same grounder, and Jones fielded it cleanly this time, but the batter was too quick to be doubled up. Had the first one gone for a double play, or had Mathisen’s grounder found him, Brault would have been out of the inning. Instead, he labored to the final two hitters, giving up a single to right and a walk. Julio Vivas came on and cleared the bases, giving Brault four runs on the day.
Despite the struggles in the fifth inning, Brault looked solid. I’ve been impressed with him every time I’ve seen him, mostly because of the action on his sinker. Not only does it have the late vertical movement, but he also has some horizontal movement that runs in on right-handers, giving an inside fastball at knee level that drops off when it reaches the plate. Elarton said that he’s still in the evaluation process with Brault, but that he might not need to change a thing with him this year.
“I like to see guys when they’re at their best and when they’re at their worst, and everything in between before I start to go and make adjustments,” Elarton said. “If he can keep pitching the way he is, we’re probably not going to need to make adjustments.”
**The Bradenton rotation will get a boost as the first half goes on. Tyler Eppler missed some time in Spring Training with elbow soreness, but is back on the mound throwing. He’s currently on pace to join the rotation by the start of May. Clay Holmes, who is returning from Tommy John surgery, is targeted to be on the team by the start of June. Luis Heredia will also join the team after missing time with conditioning issues. He’s working on getting stretched out right now, but has no target date set for when he will join the team.
**The upcoming Bradenton rotation: Matt Benedict, Cody Dickson, Felipe Gonzalez, Frank Duncan, Steven Brault