Ben Braymer, the Washington Nationals’ 2016 18th Round pick out of Auburn University, who debuted in an empty Fenway Park last season, and tossed five scoreless, one-hit innings late last September in Miami, in his final appearance and first MLB start, has been soaking up the atmosphere in West Palm Beach, FL this year, as he and the rest of the Nats prepare for the 2021 campaign.
“Definitely a student of the game,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters earlier this week when he talked about the 26-year-old left-hander’s work this spring. “He’s always trying to get better. He’s always asking questions on how to get better, and he watches everything. I saw him the other day watching [Jon] Lester and his bullpen, so he’s constantly trying to learn and pick up things that will help him.
As Braymer put it when asked about watching the 37-year-old, 15-year veteran work, well, of course he was watching Lester (who did end up having to go to New York for surgery to get his thyroid gland removed this week).
“First and foremost, look at our rotation,” Braymer said. “Those guys are so accomplished.
“And they’ve been around for a long time and especially someone like Jon who has been so healthy for so long.
“I think it’s important for me to just kind of see how he goes about his business, watch what he does when the spikes come off in the weight room and the training room and stuff like that, and the same goes for Max [Scherzer] and Stephen [Strasburg] and Joe [Ross] and all those guys. Their experience, and they have have a wealth of it. And I think if anybody were to ask me, especially a younger guy, I would say just be a sponge, listen to as many things as you can. Watch them. That’s kind of what I’m sticking to, that’s what I did last year.
“I would say probably this year I’m a little more confident to speak up and ask some questions to those guys, whereas last year I was more observant.”
There’s surely plenty he can pick up from the veterans in camp with the club this spring, and the lefty, who finished up three outings last summer with a 1.23 ERA, a 3.06 FIP, five walks, and eight Ks in 7 1⁄3 IP in his first taste of major league action, has impressed early this spring.
“He looks real good so far. I was surprised at his velo — he used to throw 92 topping out 93, last year his velo was down,” Martinez said.
Baseball Savant had Braymer’s fastball at 88.7 MPH average in 2020, after he worked out at the Alternate Training site in Fredericksburg, VA while waiting for an opportunity at the big league level.
“This year he tweaked his mechanics a little bit over the winter,” Martinez continued.
“And his first outing he was throwing the ball at 92, which is a great sign. So, he’s got three really good pitches.
“He’s not afraid, I can tell you that. He uses both sides of the plate, in and out, and he can throw his changeup at any count, and he’s got a really good curveball.”
Braymer said his arm feels really good so far this year after a normal offseason.
“It actually feels way better right now than it did at any point last year,” he explained. “Felt like last year I was dealing with a little bit of dead arm to an extent. Obviously, season ended, got to go home, recoup, kick the feet up for a little bit and get back to work, and getting on a good strength and throwing program, so arm feels really good right now.”
The southpaw said he kind of assumed that the weird, start-stop-and-start-back-up nature of things last season had something to do with his dead arm and decreased velo when he did get the call-up.
“I kind of figured that was what was going on last year. It was just one of those things that just I as a player had to grind through and make the most of it, and had a pretty good idea that after some down time and like a normal ramp-up again, I would be fine.”
“He had a lot of experience last year,” Martinez said. “He gained a lot of experience. I think this year he understands what he needs to do and I’m just looking forward to watching him go out there and compete. He’s an unbelievable competitor. I know that.
“And he wants to pitch and he wants to help us win no matter what we ask him to do, whether it’s to start, which I kind of like, or to pitch in the bullpen.
“He’s another guy for me that I feel like right now we need to stretch him out and keep him as a starter, and because later on we can always switch and put him in the bullpen if we need to.
“I want to see Braymer start. I think he’s got three good pitches, so if we can stretch him out we’ll see where he’s at.”
Braymer said he was excited about the opportunity to start again, when/if the minor league season gets going, since it’s obviously going to be tough to crack the big league rotation.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to have the chance to be stretched out as a starter,” he said. “2019, in the minor leagues, was my first full season as a starter all year, and I felt like that went pretty well. So, going into last year, starter again, we all know how that went, made a couple of relief appearances, and started a game, and then heading into the offseason they told me to stretch out as a starter, do my throwing program as I would, anticipate throwing a lot of innings this year, and be built up to probably two ups, three ups for the start of Spring Training.
“I feel very confident in that, I also feel more confident in a relief role this year as well should that be where I’m at. I think it’s always easier to kind of go from a starter to a reliever than vice versa, you know, and that will allow my arm to stay in shape. Should I still be stretched out as a starter at the end of the year, that’s wonderful.
“I’m going to love the challenge of doing so, and I definitely feel confident in a starter’s role for sure.”
The opportunity he got last year, and the adjustments he had to make based on the stuff that he had, provided another learning opportunity, in the majors as well in Fredericksburg.
“Last year, my stuff was a little down from what it typically is, so I feel like from the get-go that kind of forced me to think outside the box and think outside the realm of how I would normally attack hitters, and when I look back on that, it forced me to really mix up my pitches a whole lot. Especially at the alternate site, we were facing the same four or five hitters, literally, for five innings, so by the fifth inning they were coming up to the plate and I’d seen them five, six, seven times, so they know how you pitch and you know kind of what they’re looking for, so it became more of a chess match, and I think when you look back to that start in Miami, that’s kind of what I did.
“I just mixed everything up, but pitched backwards, pitched traditionally off the fastball, and just did a little bit of everything, and I felt really good doing that, and I still feel pretty confident about that style of pitching. So, that’s something that I’m going to take with me and move forward with, and as my stuff continues to get back to where it should be and hopefully better, then that will just serve me even more down the road.”