SURPRISE, Ariz. -- One of the first things people notice about Brad Brach when he starts throwing from the mound is his delivery. It’s a herky-jerky movement, but it’s deceptive. With the wonky windup, it’s tough for hitters to pick the ball up coming out of his hand, and that’s led to some of his success over his career.
It’s also led to some of his downfalls.
Brach, the right-handed reliever the Royals signed to a Minor League contract early in Spring Training, had to rework the way he delivers the ball this offseason because of how he had gotten away from what works in the previous few years. Brach comes across his body in his delivery, but it also caused him to lunge toward the third-base dugout, and the direction toward home plate was way off.
“There are certain cues, like where I stand on the rubber and where my direction’s going that really just tells it all for me,” Brach said during a Zoom call on Saturday. “Just watching some of the videos from last year, it was pretty bad there for a few of the outings, and it just got worse and worse.”
After allowing eight runs in 12 1/3 innings with the Mets in 2020, Brach knew he had to readjust to get back to the way he felt when he was one of the best relievers in baseball. An American League All-Star in 2016 with the Orioles, Brach posted a 3.05 ERA from 2012-18 with more than a strikeout per inning, pitching for the Padres, Orioles and Braves. He appeared in three postseason games for Baltimore and two more for Atlanta.
But Brach struggled after signing a one-year deal with the Cubs, posting a 6.13 ERA in 39 2/3 innings with Chicago in 2019 before he was released in August and signed with the Mets. He recorded a 3.68 ERA in 14 2/3 innings with New York that year, and then he missed the first two weeks of the '20 season because of COVID-19.
Brach met up with some of his pitching coaches from the Orioles this offseason, and they helped him realign his delivery. The goal was to make it simpler, without taking away that deception.
“At that point, I was searching for something, anything really,” Brach said. “And I knew that they knew me better than anyone else, so really since November on, it was working with them. It was good to have eyes that have seen me at my best and know where I need to be. It was really simple what we got it down to and created so much better leg kick and arm path, and everything like that. Everything just tightened up, which was where I needed to be.”
The results, so far, have been good: Brach hasn’t allowed a run in three innings this Spring Training. His velocity is also up from what it was last year with New York, sitting more in the 93 mph range rather than the 90 mph range.
“Some of the bullpens I’ve thrown here and in games have been the best I’ve felt in years,” Brach said. “I just knew coming into spring, we have to get the velocity up. It’s been good. I like where it is right now.”
Depending on how the rest of spring shakes out for the Royals, and how they decide to construct their roster come Opening Day, Brach might be the darkhorse when it comes to breaking with Kansas City's bullpen. He’s shown that he can be an uncomfortable at-bat for hitters, especially right-handers. The Royals value having different looks with their relievers. Brach is certainly a different look, and he has a four-pitch mix, which is fairly unheard of with relievers. He throws a cutter and changeup -- which, at its best, can reliably get lefties out -- to go along with his two fastballs.
“His stuff continues to just develop,” manager Mike Matheny said. “He’s still trying to show us what he’s got and how he’s going to potentially fit in with us, and he’s got some funky stuff, so I was happy to see him get back out there and work through a couple of things.”
To make room on the Mets’ roster, Brach was designated for assignment before the start of Spring Training. When he began talking with teams, all he was looking for was an opportunity. The Royals gave him that, with a chance to make the club. So far, he’s showing what he could add to the bullpen.
“I just feel like there’s more in the tank,” Brach said. “And I need to get back to doing what I know my strengths are. Go out there and attack these hitters.”