When Hickory Crawdads pitcher Tim Brennan made his last start a week ago, he faced the South Atlantic League’s best offense in the Asheville Tourists. Entering that three-games series against Hickory, the Tourists had the top mark in the SAL in all three slash statistical categories (batting avg., on-base pct., and slugging), and were second in home runs. Asheville also had the reigning SAL hitter of the week in Willie MacIver.
Making just his second pro start, it didn’t appear that Brennan, the Texas Rangers’ seventh-round pick last June out of St. Joseph’s, would be a good matchup against the powerful Tourists lineup. And it certainly wasn’t – for the Tourists.
Brennan retired the first 12 hitters and held the Tourists hitless through five on the way to a 2-0 win last Monday.
Entering the start, the right-hander said the plan was to use the aggressive nature of the Tourists lineup against them.
“I like when teams swing early,” said Brennan, who gave up one walk, one hit and struck out three for the win. “I want to get ahead, and I’m just going to try and miss barrels. I think I had 16 out of 20 batters with four pitches or less last night, which is exactly what I’m looking for to go deep into games.”
Compared to much of the Crawdads staff, Brennan, 22, doesn’t have the eye-popping velocity that catches the eye. The right-hander’s sinking fastball zips around 87-89 mph, which is relatively pedestrian to several other Crawdads pitchers that hit the gun regularly from 95-99. Brennan, who throws a slider and changeup as his secondaries, is comfortable with who he is.
“I know what I have and I know how it plays,” said the native of Philadelphia. “I’ve studied guys that throw similarly. I’ve watched a lot of Kyle Hendricks with the Cubs…I’ve had the same stuff since college and obviously my stuff has gotten a little better and I’ve tinkered with things. But, I’ve thrown the same way for the last four or five years and I’m comfortable with it. Now, I’m just trying to master it.”
After his selection last June, with a cold, college season at St. Joseph’s behind him and a touch of shoulder inflammation, Brennan sat out the summer before throwing some at instructionals last fall. He finally got his first official action in a start at Greensboro on April 9, when he allowed a run on three hits, with one walk and two strikeouts.
Along with getting his shoulder ready for this season, he prepared for his season and that first start by getting some advice from other pro pitchers. The advice he got mirrored that of the trust he has in his stuff – to be who he is.
“The biggest advice I got was to have fun and be yourself,” said Brennan. “If you try to do too much and be somebody you’re not, then you’re not going to be as effective. Go with what you’ve got and go out there and own it. That’s what I try to do.”
Along with understanding what he has and using it to his advantage, Brennan thinks his style of pitching is advantage in the bigger picture of a game, when the high-velocity arms of the bullpen enter.
“The chances are the guys in our bullpen are going to be completely different,” Brennan explained. “There’s going to be different arm slots and 95-plus. Our bullpen has been absolutely electric this year. The goal is to get through the lineup three times, be winning the game and then turn it over to them, and then, we’re probably going to win.”
Looking at the rest of this season, Brennan, who says he manipulates his slider at times to give it the appearance of a curveball, wants to develop a fastball that stays up in the zone.
“With throwing all sinkers in college,” said Brennan. “I didn’t try and go up at all. Now, it’s just go up to get them off my fastball down and my offspeed. I’m getting more and more comfortable with it and I think that’ll be a big weapon for me down the road.”