Ben Braymer, a 2016 18th Round pick out of Auburn University, who made his MLB debut with Washington’s Nationals in late August 2020, four years after the club selected him, wrapped up his 2020 campaign with five scoreless innings of work against Miami on the road in Marlins Park.
Braymer started in the majority of his outings in the Nationals’ minor league system (52 of 75), but came out of the bullpen in his first two big league appearances, before getting an opportunity to start down the stretch.
“I want him to go out there and just relax and just get one out,” manager Davey Martinez said before Braymer faced the Fish.
“When he’s out there [he’s] just go pitch to pitch and work on just getting outs and focus on the here and now.”
“He’s going to be fine. He’s got three pretty good pitches, I told him to use them all.
“[Kurt] Suzuki is going to catch him and Suzuki’s got experience, so I said just follow Suzuki’s call, and if there’s something you want to do that he calls, ultimately you control the game and you know who you are and go out there and do what you do best.”
Asked what he’d be watching, the manager said he wanted to see the southpaw throw strikes.
“The biggest thing is strike one, getting ahead of hitters. He’s really good when he gets ahead of hitters. We’ll watch his mechanics. I know he’s talked to [Pitching Coach] Paul [Menhart] about doing some different things.
“He’s done some different things. He’s typically a strike thrower. He pounds the strike zone. I’d like to see him attack the strike zone on both sides of the plate, not just live away, so we will watch all those things.”
Braymer walked three in five innings of work in that game, threw 47 of 86 pitches for strikes, and gave up just one hit in what ended up a 15-0 win in which he earned his first W.
“He was outstanding,” Martinez said after the outing. “When he throws strikes he’s effective. His fastball sneaks up on you.
“Good breaking ball, really good changeup. We talked to — [Suzuki] and him had a game plan coming in about utilizing all his pitches, using both sides of the plate, he did it really well. We wanted to get him that win, we talked to him, we watched him. He looked really good.
“We weren’t going to let him go more than 90 pitches, so he finished up at 86 pitches, but he did really well.”
Suzuki told reporters he was impressed with what he saw from the 26-year-old left-hander.
“Braymer was — he’s pretty much the story today,” the veteran backstop said. “He came out and threw strikes and obviously we get some runs, and he came out and really established himself like, ‘I’m going to throw strikes, I’m going to get you guys out quick, get us back into the dugout to score more runs,’ and he kept the tempo of the game great, kept them off-balance, and that’s really all you can ask for.”
Braymer said that working with the veteran catcher definitely helped him navigate Miami’s lineup.
“I think I only shook Zuk off once of twice maybe and it was just because I had a conviction in a certain pitch,” he explained, “... but other than that, we were on the same page all night and he did a great job, and I’m sure it’s sometimes difficult for them when they have a new guy up and especially when they’re having their first start, so I thought he did a really good job of just keeping me locked in and sticking with me throughout the longer innings.”
In his limited time in the majors, Braymer was fastball-heavy in his pitch selection (53.9%), and opposing hitters put up a .400 AVG on his four-seamer, but he had more success with his offspeed pitches, holding hitters to a .125 AVG on his curve (which he threw 23.7% of the time), and a .182 AVG on his changeup (22.4%).
“He had a really good changeup, big curveball, mixed in some heaters,” Suzuki said of the outing against the Marlins in particular, “... but for the most part he was really just kind of moving the ball out, there wasn’t any predictability to him, got a lot of mishits in the zone, which is good. So not much chase, it was more of in-zone, off-contact, kind of soft contact and things like that.
“That’s what you like to see, and shoot, I caught him in Spring Training once, and here I caught him a couple times too out of the bullpen a couple times, and he looked great.
“The guy throws strikes and he looks comfortable out there.”
Braymer spent the majority of his time at Fredericksburg, VA’s Alternate Training Site this past summer, but he said the two relief appearances before his first start helped him feel more comfortable on the mound in Miami.
“I think that just repetitions, honestly, just going out there, gettin an opportunity to pitch, doing it more than a few times, and that brings the level of comfort I guess, knowing that I’m here, I’m preparing, I’m one of the guys,” Braymer said. “Being around everyone and in the same clubhouse, and pulling in the same direction. I think it’s just one of those things that as you spend more time here and you hone your craft more, get more innings, it’s going to be better, so I think that had a part today for me.”
In his one start, he generated six swinging strikes (three with his fastball, two on his curve, and one with his changeup), and 15 called strikes (eight with his fastball, five with his curve, and two with his changeup). He told reporters afterwards he was happy with the way both of his offspeed pitches played.
“Honestly that’s just something that I’ve been working on all summer camp, I guess,” Braymer said.
“It’s been a weird year in a lot of ways, and I think that this ramp-up, then the shutdown, then the ramp-up again, has kind of affected me in some certain areas, so I’ve had to think outside the box and really hone in on my craft of pitching, and adopt some things that I may not have done in the past.
“So, one of those things being throwing offspeed pitches in fastball counts, and throwing more of them consecutively.”
“I really tried to do that today,” he continued of his stuff against the Marlins. “I knew I didn’t really have my best fastball command. I thought I controlled my offspeed pretty well, but I didn’t think I commanded it very well.
“At least in certain instances, but that was definitely big for me being able to throw those in that my fastball command wasn’t very good.”