Rex Brothers stood a few feet from where the journey started and reflected. A year ago, he was preparing for the Arizona Fall League, the big leagues just a dream. As the Rockies’ season culminated in San Francisco, Brothers stood out as one of the few players not to disappoint or regress.
It started here in the visiting clubhouse at AT&T Park on June 5.
“Spring training, that whole experience was good. But my favorite memory of this season was coming back to the clubhouse,’’ Brothers said. “You form relationships in spring, but there is a bit of a distance. But walking back in that room, knowing you have earned the right to be part of their team, that was the best moment.’’
With newspapers and blogs pushing for his promotion for weeks, Brothers lived up to the type. In 48 games, the left-hander posted a 2.88 ERA in 48 games. Even more impressive, he struck out 59 batters in 40 2/3 innings and held hitters to a .217 average.
“No longer is the worry, ‘Is he going to throw enough strikes?’ He’s always had great stuff, but we’ve seen the growth. He began consistently getting into good counts,’’ Rockies pitching coach Bob Apodaca said. “He’s earned the right to be in key situations, and that will continue going forward.’’
Brothers evolved from a luxury item, used in pressure-free situations to a weapon needed for high-leverage outs. His workload was similar to a year ago, but…
“But it’s a lot different in the big leagues,’’ he admitted. “I didn’t know what to expect. My arm and body feel fine.’’
Now comes the hard part for the prized prospect: Repeating success. Brothers has mapped out his winter, that even without the Arizona Fall League, will have one goal in mind.
“The Fall League prepared me for the longer season. I told myself last year that I wasn’t going to be behind when I got to spring training. It will be the same this year,’’ Brothers said. “I will make sure I represent myself in the way I want to. I will be ready to rock and roll when spring training begins.’’
Few pitchers have risen faster in the Rockies’ minor leagues than Brothers, who grew up throwing fastballs in his front lawn in Tennessee to his father and little brother Hunter Brothers, a pitcher for Lipscomb University. To keep his edge this offseason – and it’s razor sharp when you have a 98-mph fastball and nasty slider – Brothers will continue a challenging training regiment at Lipscomb and Middle Tennessee State with other professional players.
Those in the group include: Atlanta Braves pitcher Mike Minor, Red Sox outfield prospect Bryce Brantz and Nationals left-handed pitching prospect Robbie Ray.
“We are all kind of from the same area. We get together, and it gets really competitive,’’ Brothers said. “We really push each other and have become friends. You always need someone to play catch with, so that helps. But there’s a camaraderie there as well.’’
Those who know Brothers won’t be surprised that big league fame hasn’t changed him. Asked if he made a big purchase this season, he said humbly, “I was wearing a sport coat and slacks in Triple-A, so I had to buy a couple of suits for traveling (in the major leagues). Other than that, I have been putting the money away.’’
Brothers will return to his roots this winter. He plans to live with his college roommate so he can be closer to his brother. Hunter, a right-handed pitcher for the Bisons, is healthy again after recovering from an elbow injury in football (a helmet smashed it into as he was tackling a ball carrier).
“I want to hang out with him as much as I can,’’ Brothers said. “I’ve always missed a lot of his games because I was playing. I enjoy watching him play as much as I enjoy playing.’’
It’s been a remarkable year for Brothers. He’s earned some down time, which means he will get in some deer hunting. But during those quiet moments, he will think back to walking in the clubhouse in San Francisco and wanting to never leave.
“It’s about getting better at this level,’’ Brothers said. “I know that. I will continue working hard.’’