SL notes: Boxberger shows brilliance

Righty reliever has been dominant for struggling Mudcats

Brad Boxberger has recorded 50 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings. (Nikolaus/Carolina Mudcats)

By Guy Curtright / Special to MLB.com | June 21, 2011 6:00 AM

There weren't a lot of positives for Carolina during a dismal first half of the season. The bullpen work of Brad Boxberger certainly qualifies, though.

The 22-year-old right-hander had the best strikeout ratio and lowest batting average against among all qualified Southern League relievers, fanning 50 in 30 1/3 innings while allowing opponents to hit just .157.

"He's done a great job," Mudcats manager David Bell said. "He's pitched very well."

So well, in fact, that he was an easy choice for the Southern League All-Star Game. That he's the only Carolina representative is a reflection of the Mudcats' 23-47 record and last-place finish in the North Division.

"We've been playing better, and hopefully things will turn around," said Boxberger, a supplemental first-round choice by Cincinnati in the 2009 Draft.

The former University of Southern California pitcher knows about struggles. He went through a difficult second half with the Mudcats last year after being promoted from the Carolina League and switched from a starter to a reliever.

In 22 relief appearances a year ago, Boxberger was 1-4 with an 8.49 ERA. He had 40 strikeouts in 30 innings but walked 22.

"It's hard enough just adjusting to a higher level. When you are switching roles as well, it really makes it difficult," Boxberger said. "But I learned from it. I know how to approach pitching in relief now."

Bell has seen the transformation.

"He experienced some tough times last season, and that was really the best thing that could happen," the manager said. "Struggling and learning to make adjustments are what the Minor Leagues are all about. It was a great learning experience."

Boxberger has a 1.48 ERA in his 27 appearances, and right-handed hitters have been held to a .103 average. Don't be fooled by his modest total of three saves. The opportunities haven't been there.

"I enjoy my role and feel comfortable," Boxberger said. "I put too much pressure on myself last year and tried to do too much."

As a reliever, Boxberger has junked his curveball and uses a slider and changeup to complement his fastball. He has hit 98 mph and regularly pitches in the mid-90s.

Boxberger followed his father to USC, but didn't have quite as much success. Rod went 12-1 in 1978 and was MVP of the College World Series for the champion Trojans before being the 11th overall pick in the Draft.

Before he was taken by Cincinnati in '09, Brad was just 11-12 in three seasons with Southern California, mostly as a starter. But the Reds saw him pitch out of the bullpen in the Cape Cod League and liked his potential there.

"I think they always saw me as a reliever more, but they wanted me to get innings," said Boxberger, who turned 23 on May 27. "That's why I began last year as a starter."

Boxberger had a 3.19 ERA for Lynchburg in his Minor League debut and made the Carolina League All-Star team. Then came the move up to Double-A, though, and -- at the time -- a painful learning experience, something his father could relate to.

Despite his All-American standing and first-round Draft status, Rod Boxberger never made the Majors.

"He definitely helped me prepare for the Minor Leagues and everything they have in store," Brad Boxberger said. "Now he's letting me go out and have my own career."

With the adjustment to the bullpen, everything is looking bright.

"Brad's right on track with where he should be," Bell said.

In brief

Streak broken: Carolina snapped its streak of 21 consecutive series losses dating back to last July when it took five of six from Jackson to end the first half. By sweeping the final doubleheader with the Generals, the Mudcats also avoided having the worst ever record for a half in the Southern League. Chattanooga was also 23-47 during the second half of the 2002 season.

Smokies rule: Tennessee's first-place finish in the North Division gave the Smokies four consecutive half-season titles. Tennessee won the second half in 2009 and finished first in both halves a year ago. Jacksonville, the two-time defending Southern League champion, could have matched the Smokies but faded late as Birmingham took the South Division first-half title.

Making history: Matt Moore's no-hitter for Montgomery was the first in Biscuits history and the first no-hitter ever at Hank Aaron Stadium in Mobile. Moore, rated as MLB.com's No. 27 prospect, struck out 11 and walked two in the 8-0 victory while improving his record to 5-3 and lowering his ERA to 2.43. He has 103 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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