Brown has solid fastball, but changeup's his bread and butter

Brown has solid fastball, but changeup's his bread and butter

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- For all the Spring Training talk about the velocity the Rockies have at their disposal, righty Brooks Brown -- the team's best reliever at the end of last season -- stymied hitters softly.

Brown, 29, who joined the Rockies before last season and made his debut after pitching for the D-backs (2006-08), the Tigers (2009-12) and the Pirates (2013) showed a respectable fastball last season, at a 94.4 mph average. But he repeatedly sent hitters -- especially those in the middle of the order -- to the dugout frustrated over not being able to time a changeup that fluttered in at 85.6 mph.

"The more success I was having with it, the more aggressiveness I had with it," said Brown, scheduled to make his 2015 Cactus League debut Thursday against the D-backs. "It was a pitch I'd always had, but by the All-Star break last year, I found I could throw it to right-handed and left-handed hitters. It became a put-away pitch."

Brown was 0-1 with a 2.77 ERA in 28 Major League games last season, with 21 strikeouts against five walks, and a .208 batting average against. In 14 games from Aug. 23 to season's end, he held opponents to a .128 batting average, with nine strikeouts and no walks.

The Rockies usually carry eight relievers. Barring injury, five are expected to be closer LaTroy Hawkins, righty setup men John Axford and Adam Ottavino, and lefty setup men Rex Brothers and Boone Logan. Lefty Christian Friedrich performed well late last season, and is out of Minor League options, so it would take a lot for him not to be in the 'pen.

Brown is part of the competition for two spots with Tommy Kahnle, who spent the 2014 season with the Rockies, recent hard-throwing pickups such as Jairo Diaz and Jorge Rondon, veteran former Rockies closer Rafael Betancourt and possibly some starter types who could be shifted to relief duty. There are also non-roster invitees with Major League experience such as righty Justin Miller.

But even if they all throw harder, Brown showed last year he can be hard to hit.

"Brooks came up last year and did a great job," Rockies bullpen coach Darren Holmes said. "When you look at guys that don't throw as hard, for me, my good secondary pitch is a changeup. That's a complete equalizer, I don't care if you throw 85 or you throw 105."

Since being drafted out of the University of Georgia by the D-backs with the No. 34 pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, Brown is 50-65 with a 4.28 ERA in 239 Minor League appearances, including 139 starts.

Brown said becoming a reliever during the 2013 season with the Pirates' Indianapolis affiliate and continuing bullpen work last year for the Rockies at Triple-A Colorado Springs (1-1, 4.18 ERA in 37 games) unlocked his potential.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.