Justin Brashear reached base four times in Monday's win over the Quad Cities Swing. That brought his batting average for the month to .320, and his OBP to .500.
"I've been working a lot on trying to go the other way," revealed the Mississippi alumnus. "My swing's been feeling good lately. You just try to get more consistent as a ballplayer every day."[premium]
While Brashear's swing has certainly improved, the more important factor in his increased offensive productivity may be the times in which he does not swing. Through Monday's game, the backstop had thirteen walks to just six strikeouts in his last eleven games.
Being able to catch more often after Frank Curreri's promotion plays a role here as well. From behind the plate, Brashear gets a chance to hone his eye for the strike zone.
"It gives us confidence as hitters and me as a catcher to know that if I call a pitch in a certain location or if I'm hitting, and I see a ball in a certain location, that I'll be able to know that it's a ball or a strike," he explained. But that confidence can only be attained if the umpires are calling a consistent strike zone.
"I think all the umpires we've had all season have done a pretty good job," Brashear commented after a contest in which the opposing manager was ejected for arguing balls and strikes.
Richard Mercado, South Bend's other catcher, has also reaped the benefits of extra playing time by batting .333 with a .400 OBP in his first eight games of May. As someone who spent most of 2006 with the Silver Hawks, you might expect Mercado to have adopted a mentor's role with Brashear. But the 44th round pick out of the University of Mississippi arrived in South Bend with quite an acumen for calling a game already.
"He's a really smart guy, [and a former] college player," praised Mercado. "He knows a whole lot, and has a really good baseball aptitude."
"For me, the big key is defensively," added the younger catcher. "That's more important to me than my offense. I'm swinging enough to keep myself in the lineup, but my main focus going into a game is behind the plate and what I can do to help my pitching staff win."
Indeed, catcher is generally regarded as the most important defensive position. With responsibilities that include blocking pitches, defending bunts, throwing out baserunners, and calling good games, catchers impact a defense on every play. When asked which of those responsibilities he gives the most thought to, Brashear did not hesitate.
"It's more helping our pitchers calling a game: getting them in position to make good pitches and get out of tough spots and jams. Blocking pitches and throwing runners out is part of my job description. It's not really something that you think about that much. It's more of a reaction type thing."
Brashear expanded on one of his philosophies for calling a game.
"We try in a perfect world to get our pitcher's strength to attack hitter's weakness, but if a hitter's a good fastball hitter and our pitcher's got a great fastball, we're not going to get off of the fastball. We're going to make him prove to us over the course of the game or the series that he can handle that pitch before we go to something else. Our main focus is really helping our pitchers use their strengths develop more quality pitches that they can attack the zone with."
Despite his hot month offensively, Brashear continues to downplay the importance of offense in relation to how he can contribute to the team behind the dish.
"Pitching runs the game, at this level especially," noted Brashear. "If we have guys that go out there and give us five, six, or seven quality innings every time out, we're going to have a good chance to win the ballgame."[/premium]
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