The Kinston Indians have a .231 team average, lowest in the Carolina League and a big reason why Brett Brach
hasn't been too lucky when it comes to wins and losses.
Brach is 5-5 this season in 15 Carolina League appearances, but don't be fooled by those numbers. The 23-year-old right-hander has been solid throughout 2011, attacking the strike zone and pitching more to contact to become one of the circuit's most consistent starters.
Some of Brach's other numbers paint a more accurate picture of his work this season. He's got an impressive 2.80 ERA, and opposing hitters have just a .211 average against him. In addition, he's struck out 50 and walked just 25 in 80 1/3 innings.
Brach, a 10th-round pick by the Indians in the 2009 Draft, understands his team is struggling at the plate but tries to do his job the same way each time. Despite the offensive problems, good pitching has been the team's backbone -- a big reason why the Indians have won 32 of their last 45 games.
"I just want to keep my team in the game," Brach said. "I want us to be able to be within one or two runs."
Brach changed his pitching strategy midway through last year after a heart-to-heart talk with pitching coach Mickey Callaway at Class A Lake County. Callaway encouraged him to pitch to contact and explained he shouldn't be concerned with trying to strike out every hitter.
Callaway told Brach that if he wanted to move up, going further in starts would be a key.
"I realized I wasn't going to be able to throw 95 or 96, so I knew I had to force the hitters to make contact, and I'd last longer into games," Brach said.
The New Jersey native began attacking the zone more and relying heavily on his sinker as an out pitch. He was better during the second part of last year, finishing with a 5-8 record after struggling early.
Callaway moved to Kinston this year and kept working with Brach on the same philosophies. He'll use the sinker at any time in the count, come inside more and show hitters a variety of looks as he also features a curve, slider and change-up.
"He doesn't have really overpowering stuff, so he's got to pitch inside," Callaway said. "He's done a good job of attacking the zone, especially low in the zone, and he keeps the ball down."
Kinston's offensive woes have affected his chances at wins, but Brach hasn't slowed up. His best game of the year came in late May against Frederick when he gave up one hit in seven scoreless innings but failed to earn a decision.
Brach allowed just two runs on three hits in six innings versus Myrtle Beach two starts earlier but was tagged with the loss. Last month, Brach gave up one run in six innings and two runs in 6 2/3 innings but got a no-decision each time.
Teammate Drew Pomeranz has run into similar problems. A first-round pick in last year's Draft, the lefty leads the league with a 2.06 ERA in 14 starts but is only 2-2.
Brach is hoping to get five more wins this season and keep his ERA around 3.00. He's comfortable with pitching to contact, and there's no question that style is working for him. So no matter what the offense can or can't do, Brach simply keeps trying to become a better pitcher.
"In our system, we have a lot of really good pitchers, and I want to stand out," Brach said. "I think I'm where I want to be right now. I hope I can just improve on what I've done and stay consistent."
New host: Winston-Salem will host the 2012 California-Carolina All-Star Game, set for June 19, 2012. It will be the first time the city will host the contest. This year's game was in Modesto, Calif., where the Carolina League All-Stars suffered a 6-1 loss.
Time to steal: Potomac's Jeff Kobernus stole five bases over four games to increase his league-best total to 34. The 23-year-old second baseman swiped two bases apiece Saturday and Sunday versus Wilmington.
Saved: Frederick's Sean Gleason has gotten saves in each of his past five appearances and now leads the league with 23, three ahead of Kinston's Preston Guilmet. Gleason has held opposing hitters to a .219 average.