PAWTUCKET – Lately, much attention has been paid to the hitting exploits of Bryce Brentz – deservedly so, too.
The outfield prospect carried a .471 postseason average into Game Two of the Governors’ Cup Championship Series, a figure buoyed by a little bit of everything from two home runs to two doubles to five runs batted in.
There’s another facet of Brentz’ game – call it a dying art among today’s up-and-coming ballplayers – that has been on full display during Pawtucket’s playoff run. In fact, his ability to create just enough disruption on the basepaths via hard-charging slides helped influence the outcome of two games in the PawSox’ favor.
During the seventh inning of Game Two of the Scranton series, Brentz went from first-to-third on a groundball single through the right side. Sliding feet first into the bag just as the throw was arriving from right field, Brentz threw up a brick wall that impeded Yankees third baseman Kevin Russo from getting an accurate read on the incoming toss.
Quickly realizing that the ball had gotten past Russo, Brentz quickly rose to his feet and hurried toward the plate. His heads-up smarts proved quite timely as Brentz scored the go-ahead in what amounted to a 3-2 Pawtucket final.
“You’re not trying to hurt the player; just make sure you play the game the right way, which is full tilt and 100 percent,” Brentz stated Wednesday. “Sliding is just something you can do that eventually it becomes second nature.”
Fast forward to Game One of the finals against the Knights, as Brentz once again made his presence felt by getting down and dirty. After tripling to lead off the fourth inning, Brentz broke for home following a grounder in the direction Charlotte third baseman Brent Moral. Granted, Moral’s toss was a little off-line and low, but it was still ahead of Brentz as Charlotte catcher Josh Phegley waited to apply the tag.
Once more, Brentz utilized the feet-first approach. This time, he jarred the ball loose from Phegley’s mitt, the end result a run and a 4-2 advantage for the PawSox.
“From their standpoint, it wasn’t as strong a throw as you’d like to see,” said PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler following Tuesday’s game. “Fortunately with a good, hard slide, it makes it tough on the catcher to pick the ball, make a play and hold on to it.”
Besides having the gene and making deft use of it, Brentz credits the limited time he spent with Ryan Kalish while the outfielder rehabbed with Double-A Portland earlier this season, the brief spell consisting all of three games.
“Watching Kalish play, you can’t help but want to go all out,” said Beyeler.
Even though Beyeler is still in the early stages of seeing Brentz on an every-day basis, the skipper noted that his all-out style resembles that of past players he’s coached.
“He plays like (Josh) Reddick and Kalish, guys who can run a little bit and are aggressive on the bases,” was the comparison Beyeler drew. “Bryce has put himself into some good positions by playing the game hard.”
Steven Wright throws what PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur calls “a heavier knuckleball.” So how does one manage to add a little zip to a pitch known for its fluttering tendencies?
“He’s got more arm speed,” was the quick-to-the-point answer Sauveur provided about Wright, who got the PawSox off on the right foot in series opener with seven strong innings against Charlotte. “The key with Wright is making sure he stays back and on top of the ball. If you don’t, the ball’s going to be up.”
Working with a butterfly specialist isn’t new territory for Sauveur, not after relying on the pitch at times during his pro career and rescuing Charlie Zink’s career in 2008, when the pitcher captured International League Pitcher of the Year honors. Sauveur also understands the importance the catcher plays, hence why he plans to encourage Dan Butler to seek out Red Sox bullpen catcher Gary Tuck during spring training next year.
“Gary helped out (Jarrod Saltalamacchia) a ton in prepping him to work with (Tim) Wakefield,” said Sauveur. “There are no other bits of advice you can give (catchers entrusted with knuckleball pitchers) other than to be comfortable and stay relaxed, which you only acquire through extra work.”
EXTRA BASES: Last night marked the final home game of the 2012 season for Pawtucket as the locals will not play again at McCoy Stadium until next April 17 when they host Rochester in the 2013 home opener. …Here’s an interesting factoid as only nine of the 25 players on Pawtucket’s current playoff roster were born when the PawSox last captured the Governors’ Cup in 1984. … Beyeler mentioned that he’s received well wishes via text from several ex-PawSox players, the list including Ryan Lavarnway, Jose Iglesias and Mauro Gomez. “I heard they were watching our game (last Saturday night in Rochester) during the rain delay (in Boston),” said Beyeler. “It’s nice that they care enough to pay attention.”