Ryan Brasier’s journey from failed Fenway tryout 11 years ago to reliable bullpen option
PHILADELPHIA — The Red Sox had Ryan Brasier on their list of candidates to be selected in the 2007 amateur draft. The righthander had pitched well at a junior college in Texas and had a good recommendation from their area scout, Jim Robinson.
Brasier was even invited to a predraft workout at Fenway Park, a sure sign the Sox thought highly of him.
That didn’t last long. His pitches were so erratic during the showcase that one almost hit then-general manager Theo Epstein. The Sox passed, and the Los Angeles Angels took Brasier in the sixth round.
Eleven years later, Brasier is pitching for the Sox and steadily becoming a reliever manager Alex Cora trusts in tight, late-game situations.
Brasier’s journey back to Fenway included Tommy John surgery, an ill-fated stop in Japan, and a bachelor party he left to try out for the same team that once rejected him.
The idea that he would pitch for the Red Sox this year was not something that seemed realistic to Brasier until it actually happened.
“No, to be honest with you,” said Brasier, who turns 31 this month. “Early in the season, I didn’t see that happening. But you go into the season hoping that as long you throw well, you get an opportunity.”
Brasier has appeared in 15 games since being called up from Pawtucket July 8 and given No. 70. He has allowed two runs on eight hits over 16 innings with five walks and 15 strikeouts.
Brasier’s sinking fastball averages just over 97 miles per hour. He also throws an above-average slider and a splitter he hasn’t broken out much yet.
Opponents have hit .148 against Brasier with two extra-base hits in 54 at-bats.
“I had no idea who he was when we called him up,” Mookie Betts said. “After his first pitch, me and Jackie [Bradley Jr.] were looking at each other like, ‘I don’t know who this guy is but he’s throwing 98 with some sink.’ He showed why he’s here.”
Betts and Bradley were not alone in wondering who their new teammate was. Brasier was added to the major league roster for a handful of spring training games and pitched six times. He pitched well, too, striking out six over six innings and allowing two runs on five hits.
But only Cora remembers that.
By the time Brasier pitched, in the eighth or ninth inning, all of the regular players had come out of the game and left the stadium. That’s how it works in spring training.
But vice president, professional scouting, Gus Quattlebaum and other Sox officials were taking notes as they sat behind the plate.
“His velocity was better than we had expected it would be,” Quattlebaum said. “You started to think that he could help us.”
When Brasier continued to pitch well for Pawtucket, Cora knew that what he saw in spring training wasn’t a fluke.
“He was closing for us and pitching great,” the manager said. “When we called him up, I told the other players to pay attention. They didn’t know what we had.”
Few did. Brasier pitched in seven games for the Angels in 2013. He missed most of two seasons recovering from surgery, then signed with Oakland.
Brasier at that point was married and had two young children. He signed with the Hiroshima Carp in Japan hoping to make better money than he could in the minors.
Brasier was actually demoted by the Carp and spent part of the season with their minor league affiliate in Japan’s Western League. When he did pitch for Hiroshima, it was in low-leverage situations, and he had a 3.90 ERA with only 5.7 strikeouts per nine innings.
“I hoped I could find a job when I got back from Japan,” Brasier said. “But there wasn’t much interest.”
Brasier personally e-mailed Red Sox minor league director Ben Crockett asking for a chance, and the team agreed to send a scout to watch him pitch.
“We had reports on him from his amateur days and we always liked him,” Quattlebaum said. “His pitch mix before Japan was something our analysts had noticed.”
The Sox were one of seven or eight teams that sent a scout to watch Brasier throw in Phoenix in late January. Brasier drove down from Las Vegas, where he was attending a friend’s bachelor party.
The Sox sent special assignment scout Steve Peck to take a look at Brasier. The initial workout was rained out, adding another obstacle.
Brasier thought he pitched well, but no team called until the Red Sox reached out in March. They wanted a veteran player to fill out their bullpen in Pawtucket.
“I had no idea what I was going to do,” Brasier said. “I was still working out and throwing but I didn’t have anywhere to go. Then the Red Sox called and said, ‘Can you be here tomorrow?’ and so I left.”
That led to Brasier being called into Sunday’s game at Baltimore to protect a two-run lead with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth. He struck out Trey Mancini with a slider.
“Ryan is someone we trust,” pitching coach Dana LeVangie said. “Credit to Steve Peck, that’s a great signing for us.”
For Peck, Quattlebaum, Crockett, and others who work behind the scenes to find players for the Sox, Brasier’s story is an example that it’s not always about having the highest payroll.
“Pitch well and you’ll get a chance,” Quattlebaum said. “We all love what he’s doing. He’s helped us win.”
If the playoffs started this week, Brasier would almost surely be on the roster. Whether that stays true in October will depend on how well he adjusts to opposing hitters getting second or third looks at him.
Underestimating him at this point wouldn’t be smart.
“He’s been great,” Cora said. “He went from a minor league camp guy that we just needed outs [from] playing the Twins in spring training to a guy that is contributing to a first-place team.
“That’s perseverance and hard work.”
. . .
J.D. Martinez was named American League Player of the Week for the second time this season.
Martinez was 13 for 28 with five doubles, four home runs, and 11 RBIs in seven games, all on the road. He also scored seven runs.
Through Sunday, Martinez led the majors with 37 home runs, 104 RBIs, and a .669 slugging percentage. His .333 batting average is second to teammate Mookie Betts (.350).