Brothers eager to pitch, regardless of inning
Rockies left-hander plans to attack setup role with a closer's mentality
DENVER -- The Rockies need not worry. Left-handed reliever Rex Brothers is going to pitch with the same intensity even though the team has re-thought the idea of him as closer.
A guy who takes a January game of catch with as much seriousness as his preparation for a regular-season game isn't bent out of shape because he's not pitching the final inning.
Brothers played catch on Tuesday in Nashville, Tenn., with as much purpose as he does anything pertaining to baseball. During the season, fellow Rockies reliever Adam Ottavino is his catch partner, without fail. Each time he throws in the offseason, it's with a couple of other potential big league pitchers who live in the Nashville area, like the Tigers' Robbie Ray and the Angels' 2013 second-round Draft pick, Hunter Green.
"A lot of guys go out and play catch, but it's a distracted catch -- they're having a conversation with somebody, or they're just flipping the ball because the arm doesn't feel good, and they're not getting everything going, not getting the body in the correct position to allow you to be consistent," Brothers said. "But then they get into the game, make mistakes and give up the lead. It all starts in the offseason with staying on top of your consistency, hitting marks and getting small victories, whether it's catch, bullpens, weights, long toss."
Brothers, 26, moved into the Rockies' closer role when injuries made Rafael Betancourt unavailable. Brothers handled the role admirably, finishing with 19 saves (all but one coming after Betancourt was hurt). Just one of his two blown saves came in the ninth inning. He also finished with 76 strikeouts and 36 walks in 67 1/3 innings (72 appearances). The season included a 30-inning scoreless streak covering 32 games.
But the Rockies signed veteran righty LaTroy Hawkins this offseason for one year at $2.5 million with an option for 2015 and named him primary closer. Manager Walt Weiss said the two could be interchangeable, depending on workload, and the possibility exists that the two could end up eventually trading roles.
The Rockies don't see the move as a demotion. They were at or near the top of the National League West standings with Betancourt as closer and Brothers in a setup role. After Betancourt's injuries -- a groin strain, appendicitis and finally a season-ending right elbow injury -- the bullpen struggled with players out of their regular roles. Brothers didn't struggle, but games were lost because the bullpen didn't have a setup man of Brothers' quality.
Toward correcting the issues, the Rockies also signed lefty reliever Boone Logan, whose presence makes it easier on days Weiss wants to save Brothers for the ninth, and lefty Franklin Morales, who could be a key bullpen piece if he's not in the starting rotation.
"I've said it time and time again, and I don't mean to be repetitive," Brothers said, "but I'm here for the Rockies -- sixth inning, seventh inning, eighth inning, ninth inning, it doesn't matter the circumstance or how the game falls."
Brothers is trying to keep the same attitude about the six-month season. It's natural to dream of appearing in big games in September and October, but in his dreams, the calendar doesn't matter. For Brothers, the key to handling the myriad of possibilities is to treat all appearances the same,
"Last year at Coors Field, we had a day where all the Rockies employees were out there shoveling snow off the field so we could play the game," Brothers said. "That game matters as much as the ones in September. Every game is huge, and I have to pitch it that way. They're all big games. It blows my mind, as many games that we play, that you get to the end and it comes down to a game or two, but maybe that's because you didn't win a game in April."
Brothers, who said his meticulous attitude came from watching Betancourt and right-handed veteran Matt Belisle when he broke in during the 2011 season, is working on his efficiency early in counts -- a situation that tripped him in his few rough outings. He hopes to do his part to help a bullpen that he believes is deeper than last year's and could be special.
"Anyone in baseball will tell you that you win with a pitching staff," Brothers said. "I very much believe we've added a lot of capable arms, not only in the bullpen but staff in general. Also, a lot of us who have been here have learned some things, and this year we're going to use some of that to help us come out of games on the right side."