Brach ramping up after offseason illness

Cubs righty sees fastball velocity rise since Spring Training

March 30th, 2019

ARLINGTON -- When arrived to Spring Training, the veteran reliever let the Cubs know that his fastball velocity would be down a couple of ticks. Brach insisted that this was a normal occurrence for him, rather than a side effect of his bout with mononucleosis late in the offseason.

On Opening Day against the Rangers on Thursday, Brach took the mound in the eighth inning and showed that he had already regained some of the velocity that was missing in the preseason. Per Statcast, his first fastball clocked in at 91.7 mph. The next pitch increased to 92.3 mph and the third climbed to 92.9 mph. That was a noticeable jump from the 89-91 mph four-seamers Brach threw throughout the spring.

"Talking to him all camp, he's been telling us, 'I normally do this. I start out slowly and then I get my velocity,'" Cubs manager Joe Maddon said prior to Saturday's game in Texas. "He's a third-deck guy. He just needs that little extra adrenaline. I thought his stuff was outstanding the other night -- the way he throws across his body, the deception, his aggressive nature."

Brach turned in one scoreless inning in his Cubs debut, finishing with one strikeout. Within the outing, the right-hander fired seven four-seam fastballs with an average velocity of 92.6 mph (topping out at 93.1 mph). That falls in line with last April, when Brach had a 93 mph average four-seam velocity, per Statcast. By August, his average pitch speed was up to 94.9 mph.

"He's someone who actually gains velocity throughout the course of the year," said Theo Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations. "Obviously, we have been keeping an extra-close eye on him, because of what he's overcoming with his illness and bouncing back from, but really, we saw enough progress and he's such a veteran and a gamer, that we believe he's ready to go."

Brach, who will turn 33 on April 12, posted a 3.59 ERA in 69 games last year between stints with the Orioles and Braves. That showing included a 1.52 ERA in 27 games down the stretch, when his velocity ticked up amid Atlanta's run to the postseason. This year, Maddon will use Brach as one of his late-inning, mix-and-match arms.

"He's just got this real kind of an easy way about him, and he goes out there and I see a different cat," Maddon said. "He's so assertive out there and it's really fun to watch. I think he's going to be a big part of our success this year."

Worth noting

• Globe Life Park opened for the Rangers in 1994, which was Maddon's first year as a Major League coach with the Angels. The Rangers are currently building a new ballpark across the street, where the team will begin play next year. Count Maddon among those surprised by Texas already planning a move to a new facility.

"I'm such a fan of going to Europe and countries where things last for a very long period of time," Maddon said. "Wrigley Field has lasted a long period of time. And there's nothing wrong with this facility, other than it gets hot in here a little bit. But, that's up to them. That's not my call. They built it uniquely with kind of the office space out in the outfield and the pavilion up there in right. It's really cool. They did a really nice job."

• Daniel Descalso will typically be in the lineup against right-handed starting pitchers, but Maddon opted to give David Bote the nod at second base against Texas righty Edinson Volquez on Saturday. Explained Maddon: "David'a been swinging the bat well, but there's something about Volquez today that I do like Bote against."

• The Cubs have signed 27-year-old infielder Dixon Machado to a Minor League contract and assigned him to Triple-A Iowa. Machado has spent parts of the past four seasons as a backup second baseman and shortstop for the Tigers, hitting .227 with a .579 OPS in the Majors.