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Brazelton Finds Success By Returning To Old Ways
by Jack Magruder
MESA, Ariz.--Dewon Brazelton's 10-week-old miniature Yorkshire terrier, Roscoe, was all over the Mesa Solar Sox clubhouse one day last week, snooping around lockers, checking out the lunch room, dragging his leash behind him.
Roscoe was about the only thing Brazelton didn't control out here.
After returning to his old delivery and adding a new pitch, Brazelton has made the Arizona Fall League seem like spring again, dominating hitters the way he did at Middle Tennessee State before Tampa Bay made him the third player taken in June, 2001, draft behind Joe Mauer and Mark Prior.
Brazelton is back to his hands-over-the-head, high-leg-kick pitching style, and after developing a slider to accompany his low-90s fastball and plus changeup was virtually untouchable most of the AFL, a two-time pitcher of the week.
Typical was the Fall League championship game, when Brazelton gave up two singles--one that did not leave the infield--while throwing six scoreless innings in a 7-2 victory over the Mesa Desert Dogs on Saturday. Including the playoff start, he was 5-0, 2.77 with a league-high 40 strikeouts in 39 innings, giving up just 28 hits.
"This ain't the big leagues, but I feel like throwing the pitches that I threw and throwing them where I was throwing them, it gives me a good chance to be successful. This is big as far as confidence goes," Brazelton said.
"He came here with the attitude and determination of getting better, and he got better. Now it's on to the next level," Solar Sox pitching coach Rick Kranitz (Cubs) said.
Brazelton was still throwing 94 mph late in the Fall League, and the addition of the slider has given him another hard option. Brazelton said the development of the slider was a season-long process involving Devil Rays minor league pitching coaches Marty DeMerritt and Dick Bosman during the regular season and Kranitz in Arizona.
"It took a minute, but the light kind of went off and I figured 'Oh, that's how you throw the thing,'" Brazelton said. "It kind of flickered at times in Class A and Double-A, but it really came along here. I used to be a fastball-changeup guy, which is 50-50 (chance of the hitter guessing correctly). Now, adding another pitch that is quality makes it 33 percent."
Brazelton likes the return to the new/old delivery, believing it gives him more oomph behind his pitchers and additional deception.
"I wasn't as powerful out of my other windup," Brazelton said. "As a kid, you want to be coachable. You want to do what everybody tells you to do. But at some point, it's not working. I was a good pitcher before they drafted me. That's why they drafted me. They decided to let me try it my way.
After changing to a more compact style, "I had to worry about doing my windup. So half my thoughts were like 'Step here. Do this. Do that.' Before I even threw the ball. So I was having to battle myself and the hitter and all the other stuff. Now I'm just relaxing. I'm not thinking about how do I throw it. It's naturally for me."
Brazelton had a difficult season, going 1-6, 6.89 in 10 games with Tampa Bay before a demotion that carried him all the way down to the Class A California League. His strong Fall League performance may have resuscitated his career.
"A lot of people tried to helped me. Some things worked. Some things didn't. That's life," he said. "Everybody in the Devil Rays organization wanted the best for me. And I want the best for me. Hopefully now I can help the Devil Rays win and help myself also."
Brazelton, 6-foot-4 and 214 pounds, gave up seven runs in four innings against Grand Canyon on Nov. 1, his lone poor outing in the Fall League. Throw that out, and his ERA was 1.55 in his other 29 innings. Brazelton had a five-inning 75-pitch limit in the season, and was so economical that he twice was removed after five innings despite throwing only 65 pitches.
"He has three quality pitches. His changeup is outstanding. He can throw his changeup at any time in any count to any hitter, in my opinion. That's how good it is," Kranitz said." With the added weapon of a slider now, it changes everything for him. He doesn't have to dilute his changeup as much. He doesn't have to save it for when he really needs it."
Brazelton has also used his time in Arizona to work on his body, spending three days a week during the Fall League season at Athletes' Performance Institute, a training facility in nearby Tempe. He will spend another six weeks there after the season--two workouts a day, five days a week--before finally taking a break in December. He said his body fat had decreased from 17 percent to 13 percent during the Fall League, and he hoped to get it down to about 10 percent.
"You just have to look at yourself internally," he said. "I've never had a great first half of the year. I'm like, 'Why is that?' Well, I think maybe it takes me until July because I sit at home all winter and don't do anything, so maybe it takes until July to get physically in shape. I've tried not doing much in the offseason, just hanging out. Now I'm going to try it the other way and see what happens.
"Normal people look at it as you are just playing ball or whatever. But at some point in time, if you want to make it a decent career and a long future like I want, you have to look at is as a job. That's where I'm at right now."