In some ways, the forgotten man has been Brett DeVall, the No. 40 overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft out of Niceville (Fla.) High School. The lack of headlines, however, isn't bothering the left-hander in the least. After coping with forearm and elbow injuries during his first two seasons in the Atlanta organization, DeVall is simply pleased to be pitching every fifth day.
"Last year was really frustrating," said DeVall, who had bone chips and a spur removed from his elbow last fall. "My arm was never 100 percent, but there was never a huge problem with it. It was a matter of battling myself. This year was kind of the same thing after having the surgery and expecting everything to be fine. But right now, my arm feels better than it has at any time in the last two seasons."
DeVall's performance has mirrored the way his arm feels. On Aug. 2, the 21-year-old recorded Rome's first complete game this season as he blanked Savannah over the first eight innings and finished with a 4-1 victory. DeVall scattered six hits and fanned four without issuing a walk as he evened his record at 7-7 with his best outing of the year.
Since the All-Star break, DeVall has won four of five decisions and posted a 3.12 ERA. In the process, he has lowered his ERA to 3.62, which is the best it's been since his second start of the season.
"He's pitching great, and with a lot of confidence," said Rome manager Randy Ingle. "You can see why the Braves drafted him in the first [compensation] round. Last year he had some good outings while he was here, but this season he's pitched at a different level. He's been impressive."
DeVall made his professional debut in the Gulf Coast League after signing in 2008, posting an 0.93 ERA in 9 2/3 innings over four appearances, including three starts. He experienced recurring tightness in his forearm that August, which caused the Braves to shut him down for the rest of the month before easing him back to work in the instructional league.
The tightness resurfaced in Spring Training of 2009, however, which led the organization to delay DeVall's season debut until early May. He made 10 starts with Rome, splitting eight decisions while posting a 3.52 ERA over 53 2/3 innings. In one four-start stretch beginning in mid-May, DeVall allowed only two earned runs over 23 innings. The discomfort returned again in mid-June. An MRI revealed no damage, but rest and rehabilitation produced only modest improvement, so DeVall took the doctors' advice and had the elbow cleaned up last autumn.
DeVall worked through the discomfort in Spring Training this year, which proved tougher than he expected. With the Braves wanting to be patient, he waited until early May for the second straight season before returning to Rome. He has worked his way into a nice rhythm over the past three months, displaying an 89-91 mph fastball with excellent movement as well as a consistent curveball and an improving changeup. Most impressive has been his advanced knowledge of pitching, especially for a hurler who had only 31 professional appearances through Monday night's victory.
"I'm just thrilled to be healthy and pitching," DeVall said. "Right now, I'm trying to be consistent day in and day out. I feel if I can do that while keeping my body in shape and repeating my mechanics, everything else will come a lot easier. I have about five or so starts left in the season, and I'm looking to finish on a strong note while staying healthy."
Déjà vu for Dominguez: For the second time this season, Augusta 3B Chris Dominguez defeated Charleston with a walk-off home run in extra innings against reliever Ben Watkins. Dominguez brought the RiverDogs' six-game winning streak to an end Aug. 3 when he launched a solo shot in the bottom of the 15th to give the GreenJackets a 5-4 triumph. That effort mirrored his performance April 19, when his three-run blast in the 11th off Watkins gave Augusta an instant 5-2 victory.
Bayne a blessing: Kannapolis RHP Cameron Bayne improved to 8-9 after winning his second straight start, a 7-4 decision over Greensboro on Aug. 2. After giving up a two-run single in the third inning, Bayne retired the last 14 batters he faced to snap the Grasshoppers' four-game win streak. Bayne has allowed two earned runs in each of his last three outings while twirling a total of 23 innings.
Repeating history: The Asheville Tourists are looking to repeat last year's performance, when they went from worst to first between the first and second halves of the campaign. Manager Joe Mikulik's club moved into first place on Aug. 2 before falling back into a tie with Greenville a day later, both teams sporting a 22-16 mark. Asheville, which has put together three four-game winning streaks and one five-game skein since the All-Star break, had a South Atlantic League-worst 29-40 record in the first half.