Mudcats Notebook: Brown is settling in as a starter
As a difficult first half draws to a close, the Carolina Mudcats will not quit fighting to the very end.
The Mudcats took three of five from the Winston Salem Dash in a home-and-home series before heading back to Zebulon to take on the Potomac Nationals, from whom they split the first two games of a series to improve to 4-3 on the week.
This week, Carolina completes the series against Potomac before traveling to Wilmington to take on the Blue Rocks in a four-game set to end the first half.
A big congratulations to shortstop Erik Gonzalez, outfielder Anthony Gallas and left hander Ryan Merritt for being named to the Carolina League All-Star team to compete against the California League All-Stars on June 17 in Wilmington, Delaware.
Player Spotlight: D.J. Brown
In the minor leagues, most success comes from taking advantage of opportunities as they are given to you. Possibly no one on the Carolina Mudcats knows this better than right hand pitcher D.J. Brown.
As the season began, Brown was to be used out of the bullpen as a middle reliever and in long relief outings. However, on April 13th, Brown was called on to start against the Potomac Nationals after a freak injury to fellow righty Dylan Baker.
In the spot start, Brown went five innings and allowed just two runs on two hits and even picked up the win.
Since that time, Brown has shown he has what it takes to be a full time starter. In 10 starts, Brown has a 2-4 record with a 4.56 ERA in 53.1 innings of work. He has also struck out 39 batters to just 15 walked.
The length starters are asked to pitch has been the biggest hurdle Brown has been forced to overcome as he makes the transition into a full-time starter.
“I try to go deep in the games as much as I can,” Brown said. “Just try and throw strikes and let the defense work behind me. Save the bullpen as much as I can. As a starter, that’s the goal is to go as deep as you can in games and give the team the opportunity to win at the end.”
No one can go from being a reliever and throwing an inning or two at a time to being a starting pitcher and being expected to throw five or six innings per start.
Brown is slowly making that adjustment thanks to bullpen sessions with pitching coach Steve Karsay.
“My arm is starting to stay in shape," Brown said. "The bullpens are starting to go a lot better. I’ve been working with Karsay on my mechanics. I think as the season goes on it will continue to get better."
Karsay has been a huge help to Brown as the transition from reliever to starter, mostly focusing on the basics.
“Mechanical stuff and pitching. Mostly from game to game, we talk about hitters and how to attack,” Brown said.
Opportunity knocked from Brown, and he continues to answer the call in a big way.
Player of the Week
Jeremy Lucas (C): 7-20, 8 R, 3 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 5 BB, 2 K
Lucas had a magical week at the plate, collecting a hit and scoring a run in every game in which he played. In fact, Lucas even drew a walk in all but one game. This is great news for a player that started the season as the every day catcher, but was quickly falling out of favor due to a prolonged offensive slump. It seems as though Lucas isn’t going to give up his place without a fight.
Shawn Morimando (LHP): 1-0, 2 GS, 12.1 IP, 3ER, 6 H, 6 BB, 8 K
At this point in the season, it should be no surprise Morimando shows up on this list once again. In his last four starts Morimando has gone at least six innings and has not given up more than two runs. Since being promoted to Akron for a spot-start in late May, the left hander has returned to Zebulon with a fire that does not look like it will be put out for quite some time.
Yandy Diaz (3B): 8-19, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 2 K
Out since breaking his wrist on Opening Day, Diaz returned this week and showed why the Indians like his offensive potential so much. After collecting only one hit in his first three games off the disabled list, Diaz went off in smashing out five hits on Sunday against the Dash, which tied a franchise record.
Joe Sever (1B): 7-22, 3 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 4 K
When you’ve been out for two months with an injury, it can be difficult to get your swing back as a player. However, Sever is making it look easy, as he has collected a hit in every game and multiple hits in two of the five games he has played since coming off the disabled list with a broken hand he suffered on Opening Day when he was hit by a pitch.
Ryan Merritt (LHP): 1 GS, 7.2 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K
Like Morimando, Merritt has basically had a spot on this list cemented since the beginning of the year. Merritt set a new team-high for innings pitched in a game this season, going 7.2 innings on Friday night. Though he was unable to pick up his seventh win of the year, Merritt is still tied with Morimando for the team and league lead in wins on the season.
On the Hook
Josh Martin (RHP): 2 G, 0-1, 3.1 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K
The usually confident Martin seemed to lose his confidence on the mound this week, as he had a truly awful outing, giving up three runs in just 1.1 innings of work. The outing also resulted in his first blown save of the year, and dropped his record to 3-4 overall.
Rob Nixon (RHP): 0-1, 2 G, 3.2 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 2 K
Nixon, who has been with the Mudcats for parts of three seasons, continues to struggle putting strong outings together. One outing will be like his first appearance this week, where he allowed only one hit in two shutout innings. Then the next will resemble his second appearance, when he allowed four runs on five hits. If he ever wants to progress to the next level, Nixon has to learn how to consistently have strong outings out of the bullpen.
Adam Plutko (RHP): 1 GS, 3 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K
Since being called up from Lake County in late May, Plutko has given the Mudcats a couple of strong starts, and is slowly making the transition to the Advanced-A level of minor league baseball. However this week, he seemed to take a step back, as he was unable to get past the third inning after allowing four runs. Perhaps the most disturbing statistic to see is he allowed two home runs during that start.
Anthony Gallas (OF): 4-26, 1 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 BB, 5 K
Gallas has had an amazing season at the plate, but even the best are bound to have bad weeks. Though he did crush his team-leading eighth homer of the year, Gallas did little else during the week.
Fish Swimming Around
The Indians made two moves this week that affected the Mudcats roster. Outfielder Logan Vick was sent to Lake County after a slow start to the season in an attempt to get him to find his swing. Catcher Ryan Battaglia was also sent to Mahoning Valley in order to make room on the roster for players returning from the disabled list.
Fish on the Hook
Infielders Joe Sever and Yandy Diaz were both removed from the disabled list. Sever broke his hand on Opening Day when he was hit by a pitch and Diaz broke his wrist sliding into third base, also on Opening Day. Both players had been on the shelf for two months letting their injuries heal. This only leaves right hander Dylan Baker on the disabled list with a fractured ankle.
Zachary is a senior at NC State where he is majoring in communication-media, with minors in journalism and theatre. You can follow him on Twitter @RealZachFrancis.