Andrew Brown felt so good on the mound that not even a line drive into his ribs was going to spoil the evening.
Normally a starter for the Modesto Nuts, Brown was called into relief duty because of Tuesday’s rehab start by Colorado’s Jhoulys Chacin, and he made the best of the opportunity.
Brown followed the five scoreless innings of Jayson Aquino with three of his own as the Nuts salvaged the final game of their three-game set with Visalia, edging the Rawhide 2-1 at John Thurman Field.
This is Brown’s third season of professional ball after being drafted in the 23rd round of the 2012 draft out of the University of Akron. And like most of his Nuts’ starting brethren, Brown has struggled out of the gate.
Heading into Wednesday’s game, he was 0-1 with an 11.17 ERA in two starts with the Nuts, allowing 15 hits and four walks in 9 2/3 innings. He needed a way to turn it around, even if it meant coming out of the bullpen.
“In the first game I definitely had a lot of nerves,” Brown said. “I was excited because I hadn’t been in a starting rotation since college. After two seasons in the bullpen I needed to get used to being in the rotation again. I was getting the kinks out here and there so it feels good to get some innings under my belt.”
He entered the game in the sixth inning with the job of protecting the Nuts’ 2-0 lead and faced the minimum six batters to take that lead into the eighth.
Brandon Jacobs led off the eighth for Visalia, and his line shot up the middle was caught by Brown – not in his glove, but solid into the right side of his rib cage. The impact was hard enough for the ball to carom on two hops to third baseman Trevor Story, who gunned down Jacobs at first.
Yes, that will leave a mark, but Brown stayed in the game to complete the inning, leaving Raul Fernandez to get the save despite allowing an unearned run in the ninth.
“It about knocked the wind out of me, and my reaction was more the shock of that happening than anything else,” Brown said. “Once I stretched it out, everything felt fine.”
A wild pickoff throw and an infield throwing error allowed Modesto to take a 1-0 lead in the first, and that was all the Nuts would get off Rawhide starter Hector Hernandez until the fifth.
Derek Jones provided the insurance run when he led off the fifth with a double to right. He stole third and trotted home when Matt Wessinger’s chop over the middle of the diamond beat Visalia’s drawn-in infield.
That was all of Modesto’s offense as they settled for seven hits. The Nuts were two-for-seven with runners in scoring position, making them 22 for 116 (.190) for the season.
Yes, that’s a very real concern.
“It’s a work in progress,” said manager Don Sneddon. “We’re constantly working on hitting with runners in scoring position and we’re giving the kids some things to try to help them in those situations, even if it’s just moving the runners over.”
Brown’s next turn in the rotation shouldn’t be affected by Chacin, who is scheduled to make another start for Modesto on Friday in Lake Elsinore.
But just in case it is, Brown’s OK with that. After his first good outing in High-A, he just wants the ball.
“Whatever they need it’s all right by me,” Brown said. “I did a little of everything last year. I was a one-inning guy at the beginning, worked my way into long relief and got into the rotation at the end of the year because of some injuries and some guys moving up.
“I had a good year and it’s a promotion for me just to be here and in this rotation.”