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Tuesday, June 07, 2011By Troy E. Renck, special to LipscombSports.com
SAN DIEGO -- The thoughts racing through Rex Brothers' mind explained why. There he was Monday night standing in the visiting bullpen at Petco Park in San Diego just two years after the Rockies drafted him out of Lipscomb University.
By all accounts pterodactyls should have been fluttering in his stomach. But as he as done so many times in his athletic career, Brothers found comfort in the moment.
"I over-amped my self-confidence. It's something I have been doing since college, really. It helps me get that edge mentally," said Brothers, talking quickly, proudly in the clubhouse after the Rockies' 3-0 win. "I get beyond where my confidence would normally be. I want to make sure that I want to believe 100 percent that things will turn out good."
Brothers wasn’t perfect but he offered glimpses of the talent that has made him arguably the most hyped reliever in the Rockies' 19-year history. His first pitch to the San Diego Padres' Aaron Cunningham – a fastball – hit 96 miles per on the stadium radar gun. Brothers showed off an 84-mph slider in the same at-bat.
His father, brother, college roommate and a member of the Lipscomb athletic department were in attendance.
"It makes even more special," said Brothers, who received a game ball as a keepsake.
Manager Jim Tracy spoke of Brothers before the game like a little boy anxious to open the biggest gift under the Christmas tree. The scouting reports were glowing in the weeks before Brothers was called up. Brothers struck out reigning American League MVP Josh Hamilton on a rehab assignment and faced Tracy's son in Round Rock, Texas. Hamilton was shocked that Brothers wasn't in the big leagues, wondering who the Rockies had who could be better.
"The kid looked pretty good out there, didn't he?’’ Tracy said of Brothers' debut. “We wanted to ease him in, but this situation made sense. He handled it well."
Rockies' fans have been clamoring for Brothers to join the bullpen since Franklin Morales began slumping in April. Brothers' debut was successful given his command and overpowering stuff. In other words, he didn’t walk anyone, a problem that led to Morales’ exit.
After Cunningham singled to left field, Brothers didn’t flinch. He jammed Alberto Gonzalez with a fastball, leading to a weak groundball to second baseman Chris Nelson for a double play. A clean inning escaped Brothers because of a tough luck hit. Pinch-hitter Logan Forsythe nearly broke his bat, dribbling a 97-mph fastball toward third base.
Brothers pounced off the mound, but couldn’t make the play, leaving Forsythe to reach and Brothers to exit. History recorded Brother’s debut as scoreless when teammate Matt Belisle struck out Jason Bartlett.
"To be honest with you, I had to put the emotions in the back seat because I was going into a 1-0 nothing game. Don’t get me wrong, there were some nerves there," Brothers said. "But I had to really dial in. We were trying to win a game. I just wish I would have made the play on that ball. I thought I had it."
Confidence has never been a problem with Brothers. He has a name straight out of Central Casting and pitches like he’s starring in a black-and-white movie. There’s no stammering around the mound or shaking off the catcher’s signs. Brothers fires down the sawdust and goes right after hitters.
"As his teammate in (Triple-A) Colorado Springs, you could see that every day," said Rockies' reliever Matt Daley. "It's a really hard place to pitch. Except for Rex. He just struck everybody out."
Brothers' dominance was striking. He struck out 45 batters in 28 innings. After the ineffective Morales was traded to the Boston Red Sox, it was only a matter of time before the Rockies promoted Brothers. They wanted to him face adversity in Triple-A before bringing him up. The decision came last weekend, leading to several late-night calls.
"I think we woke up half the county after we got the news. But nobody had a problem with it," Brothers' dad Andy said with a smile.
Brothers' ability to iron out the few wrinkles in Triple-A didn't surprise Rockies' pitching coach Bob Apodaca. It only cemented the opinion he formed of the 23-year-old Brothers during spring training.
"What he showed then led us to believe he was on the cusp. I don't even want to go into the kind of stuff he possesses. That's obvious. It's a matter of maturity. And he seemed every bit mature," said Apodaca, the longest-tenured pitching coach in Rockies’ history. "You could see how he reacted. There was no big eyeball or deer in a headlights look. Is he completely polished? No. But what he possesses allows him to escape some of those mistakes right now."
Fastball command is critical for Brothers. He knows he won't get the same wild swings he saw in Triple-A as he faces more disciplined hitters. Going forward Tracy will continue to use Brothers in late innings against both righties and lefties. There have already been whispers that he could develop into a big league closer.
"With Matt Reynolds (in the bullpen) doing what he’s doing and if Rex evolves like we think he can, we could have the best left-handed dynamic in baseball," Tracy said. "The potential is there. We are looking forward to watching how this plays out with Rex."