New dad JT has 'a little rust' in 1st start back

September 4th, 2022

PITTSBURGH -- Over the past several months, has reached some of the highest highs of his young career. He started on Opening Day. He orchestrated the best start of his career. And he struck out 10 batters in a single game for the first time. But for Brubaker, the defining moment of this year had nothing to do with baseball.

Brubaker and his wife, Darci, welcomed their first child, Jett Allen Brubaker, into the world last week. Following his first start since becoming a dad, Brubaker reflected on his first handful of days of fatherhood.

“It's been excitement,” Brubaker said after allowing three runs (two earned) across 5 1/3 innings in Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Blue Jays. “It's feelings and joy and emotions that are hard to describe and are on a level that you don't think that you can get to. It's been really exciting.”

As far as “dad strength” goes, Brubaker’s sinker velocity on Sunday (93.1 mph) roughly matched that of his season average (93.2 mph), but the right-hander doesn’t have any fear of false advertising.

“Not quite yet,” Brubaker laughed. “I heard that takes about a week or so to kick in.”

Brubaker isn’t the only Pirate to welcome a child this season. In July, Bryan Reynolds had his second child, Brooks. During Spring Training, Ben Gamel homered in his final at-bat before becoming a father. Following the solo home run, Gamel quickly showered, grabbed his necessities and raced from Bradenton, Fla., to Jacksonville to witness the birth of his first daughter, Delilah.

“We all knew he was getting out of here today to have his baby,” Brubaker said back in March. “For him to hit that home run and then get out right afterwards, that’s pretty cool. I’m sure he’s going to enjoy that, and he’s going to enjoy his firstborn even more.”

This isn’t the first time Brubaker has had an extensive layoff in the middle of the season, as he received 11 days of rest between his last start of the first half and his first start of the second half. But, of course, the ebb and flow of an All-Star break compared to the birth of a first child are a tad different.

Brubaker described being mentally ready to jump back into the swing of things after not starting for nearly two weeks. Physically? He admitted to being a little off.

“There was a little rust, just a little mechanical things; where the arm might be and stuff,” Brubaker said. “[I left] some balls up. Just to be able to go out there and pitch with what I had and give the team a chance to win, I was happy with it. I'll continue to move forward and get back in the groove I was [in] before I left.”

Brubaker wasn’t as sharp as he would’ve liked, but received a major assist in the top of the sixth inning to end up with a solid outing. 

Brubaker began the frame with a groundout, but after Bo Bichette singled and Cavan Biggio walked, Shelton brought in Chase De Jong from the bullpen The stress amplified when De Jong walked Lourdes Gurriel Jr. on seven pitches, loading the bases with one out. The scenario mirrored the seventh inning of Saturday’s 4-1 loss; with the game tied, the Pirates loaded the bases with an opportunity to do damage. On Saturday, Bichette cleared the bases with a three-run double that ended up being the difference-maker. On Sunday, De Jong held firm.

With runners occupying every bag, De Jong induced a 5-4-3 double play to escape the jam. When Tucupita Marcano’s throw nestled into Josh VanMeter’s glove to end the inning, De Jong curled his body and roared.

“It was huge,” Shelton said. “It was the highest-leverage situation at that time in the game to keep us there, and he came in and did a really good job. He's done a good job consistently all year long.”

De Jong’s inning-ending double play wasn’t the only moment that got the people going. Oneil Cruz brought the ruckus in the bottom of the fifth inning with an opposite-field solo home run, a frozen rope that registered at 115.8 mph. With that home run, his 12th of the season in just 61 games, Cruz owns the 10 hardest-hit balls by a Pirate this season.

"I honestly didn't think it had the height to get over the fence,” Brubaker said. “It honestly kept climbing. It looked like someone hit a two-iron. The ball kept climbing. It was really impressive to watch the ball backspin that way."