Hammerheads' Brice posts seven zeros

Marlins prospect putting disappointing 2013 campaign behind him

Austin Brice had a 5.73 ERA in 26 games, including 23 starts, for Class A Greensboro in 2013. (Dano Keeney/MiLB.com)

By Jake Seiner / MiLB.com | April 13, 2014 4:50 PM ET

Austin Brice was tired of the regret, so he decided to make a change.

The Marlins' No. 19 prospect spent his first four pro seasons flashing Major League stuff, evidenced by the 296 strikeouts he racked up in 279 2/3 innings. He also approached the game with a high school attitude -- show up, throw hard, then move on.

"[I was] just going out there and freestyling, then later saying, 'I should've done this,' or 'I should've done that,'" he said.

Brice is winging it no more. The 21-year-old right-hander is embracing structure and routine and, after allowing two hits over seven scoreless innings Sunday, that's where he placed the credit.

"I've learned a lot from this past season on how important, especially as a starting pitcher, routine and the mental approach to the game is," Brice said after earning the win in Class A Advanced Jupiter's 6-0 blanking of Bradenton.

The 2010 ninth-round pick struck out five and walked one in his second straight scoreless outing to begin the season. He's recorded 12 strikeouts against three walks over 12 innings, allowing just five hits in his Florida State League debut.

Brice tantalized Marlins fans during his first four years as a pro with an above-average fastball and a promising -- if inconsistent -- curve. He also frustrated them with his lack of control, a problem evidenced by his 6.53 walks-per-nine innings with Class A Greensboro in 2013.

"It's not a secret that I had a bad year last year," Brice said. "Last year, honestly, was just a big wake-up call for me.

"Baseball had always been a real easy thing for me growing up. I always worked hard at it, but I didn't have to try, for lack of a better word. ... It really opened up my eyes last year that I had to start making a change. Whatever I was doing, it wasn't working."

What Brice added was routine, and what it provided was mental consistency. Once he arrives at the ballpark, his day has structure. His uniform goes on the same way. He prepares for workouts, side sessions and games in the same manner.

The process is allowing him to approach games with a clearer head, he said.

"I'm just staying calm up there," the North Carolina native said. "Just stay calm and don't let the pressure of the situation, like what happened in the last inning, affect you."

Brice said the circumstances of Sunday's seventh inning would've unraveled him in the past. He was nearly perfect through six frames, facing one batter over the minimum -- Walker Gourley reached on a ground-ball single in the first. At one point, Brice retired 12 straight batters.

The seventh, though, began as a mess. First, Brice plunked Gourley. Then Adam Frazier reached on a bunt single.

With first and second and no outs in a scoreless game, Brice struck out Pirates No. 6 prospect Josh Bell, got a fielder's choice from Jordan Steranka and retired Jonathan Schwind on a groundout.

"I really worked this offseason harder than I ever have before on my mental approach to the game," Brice said. "That was an issue last year, was not having a good routine, and when I did have a routine, I didn't stick to it. Absolutely, I've learned a lot."

Beyond the routine, Brice also has shored up his changeup. MLB.com's prospect team rated the pitch as below-average before the season, noting the off-speed offering was "clearly his third pitch."

On Sunday, Brice shut down the Marauders using the changeup as his primary off-speed pitch. He was having trouble with the feel of his curve -- "I didn't have that normal 12-to-6 break I was looking for," he said -- so he stuck with the fastball-change 1-2 punch.

"My change worked really well, had good break on it," he said. "My fastball, I located it, staying in and out in the zone and made the hitters work with the bat. It was definitely the changeup-fastball today that really worked for me."

Brice is confident that, if he sticks to the new routine, his changeup and command will continue to improve.

"Honestly, I'm more confident with every pitch than I've ever been," he said. "Every time I throw a pitch up to a batter now, I feel like it's going to be a strike, whether it is or isn't. That's a big thing for me, because the past few years, I was kind of guessing.

"Now I know the ball is either going to be down in the zone, or, like today, I could kind of let them go high and in, but then go right back down and be in the zone again. I'm really confident in all my pitches this year."

The Hammerheads broke through in the bottom of the seventh on a two-run double by Ryan Goetz, then broke it open an inning later as Goetz delivered an RBI single.

Jake Seiner is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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