Connor Brogdon threw back-to-back cutters to Lewis Brinson to begin his second inning of work in his return to the big leagues last September in Miami. Brinson swung and missed at both. Two batters later, Jorge Alfaro lined out on a first-pitch cutter.
Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp loved it.
“Man, I really liked that cutter,” he told Brogdon upon their return to the dugout. “Let’s throw more.”
“Yeah, let’s do it,” Brogdon replied.
Brogdon brought his confidence and cutter back to the Phillies after being optioned to the team’s alternate training site in Allentown, Pa., in August, following three rough appearances to begin his career. After he allowed four hits, five runs, three walks and three home runs while striking out three in just 2 2/3 innings that month, the right-hander struck out 14 and allowed one hit and two walks in 8 2/3 scoreless innings to finish the year. The Phils believe the Brogdon they saw in September is the one they will see this season. It would be stunning if he is not on the Opening Day roster.
“It goes back to confidence,” Brogdon said recently at BayCare Ballpark in Clearwater, Fla. “‘Can I do this?’ That just was absolute confirmation. I belong here. I can perform at this level.”
Brogdon threw a 93.8 mph fastball up and in to Orioles catcher Pedro Severino for the first pitch of his big league career on Aug. 13 at Citizens Bank Park. Severino ripped the ball a few rows into the left-field stands for a three-run home run.
“It left the bat and I immediately knew,” Brogdon said. “Like, there’s no doubt in my mind. I was like, ‘Man, that ball is gone.’ I watched it for a second, right? The only thought I can remember in my mind was, ‘It literally cannot get any worse than what just happened.’ And, yeah, that was that.”
Brogdon allowed another home run later in his debut. Afterward, he read supportive texts from his parents, who could not attend it because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I didn’t really even know what to say,” Brogdon said. “Because, you know, I was dealing with the emotions of debuting, but also with getting absolutely shelled out there. You start to get a little bit more cautious after that. You don’t want to leave that fastball on the inner half to a guy like Severino. I think I got nitpicky. I got a little scared. But then I went to the alt site and I got my confidence back and trusted my stuff more.”
The proof is in the velocity. Brogdon’s fastball averaged 93.8 mph in his first three appearances, when he amassed a 16.88 ERA. It averaged 95.9 mph upon his return. He started to throw his cutter more, too. He threw it only three times (4.6 percent of his pitches) in August, according to Statcast, although Brogdon recalls only throwing it once. He threw 26 cutters (21.8 percent) in September.
“The fastball obviously plays up big when you’re primarily fastball-changeup,” Knapp said. “But when you’ve got nothing moving side to side, it's pretty easy for a hitter to just look in one spot and see if it’s fast or slow. The cutter was really big for him when he got called back, just to get back into counts. It took a lot of stress off having to get strike one with a fastball or be perfect with a changeup. He was able to throw it in the low 90s. It’s going into lefties and away from righties. It was a kind of an equalizer pitch.”
Brogdon threw a fastball, changeup, curveball and slider when the Phillies selected him in the 10th round of the 2017 Draft. He ditched the curveball early. He reached Triple-A Lehigh Valley in '19. Shortly upon his arrival there, he was told he did not throw his slider hard enough. Brogdon asked former teammate Tyler Gilbert about his cutter. The righty threw it in the bullpen, and the Phillies loved it. They sent him to instructional league following that season to work on it.
“I spent the entire time on all the technology working on it,” Brogdon said. “A lot of hours put in the lab in what they call pitch design -- only the cutter.”
But what good is a cutter without the conviction to throw it? Brogdon mentions a few times that while the pitch played a role in his September turnaround, his confidence mattered most. He lost it, but he got it back.
“It had a lot to do with the increased velocity and increased success,” he said. “It was just gaining my confidence again. I got it back and got back to my bread and butter.”