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Brad Brach Has Become A Rock In Orioles' Bullpen

July 17, 2017
You may be forgiven if you don't remember how the Baltimore Orioles acquired Brad Brach.

The San Diego Padres traded the right-handed reliever to Baltimore in November 2013 in exchange for minor league pitcher Devin Jones.

Brach had bounced between the Padres and Triple-A Tucson for three seasons, not really distinguishing himself in the major leagues.

During those three seasons for San Diego, Brach was 3-6 with a 3.70 ERA. He struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings but walked half as many. He needed a change.

Brach was traded closer to his New Jersey roots and to a team he already liked.  

"I grew up a Mets fan, but my second-favorite team was the Orioles because I hated the Yankees," Brach said. "For me, it was exciting just to get to come back to the East Coast, get closer to family and friends. I knew coming here I'd have an opportunity because they were winning, and that was the thing."

During Brach's three years with the Padres, they never won more than 76 games.

Brach, who was drafted by San Diego in the 42nd round, was impressive during his first spring training with the Orioles in 2014, but he started the season at Triple-A Norfolk. He had two initial stints with the Orioles in May and June, mostly as a long reliever.

By early June, he had accumulated 10 appearances with the Orioles and posted a 5.40 ERA. Later that month, he returned to the majors and never left.

"It was awesome," Brach said. "When I made it the last time and came up and kind of found myself in a little bit different situations, I wasn't necessarily pitching long relief like I was the first few times. When I came up, I found myself pitching the sixth, seventh inning of games, and we were winning a lot."

The Orioles' 2014 pitching staff was strong. Five starters -- right-handers Kevin Gausman, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris and Chris Tillman and left-hander Wei-Yin Chen -- all had ERAs of 3.65 or lower.

Brach joined a bullpen that featured newly anointed left-handed closer Zach Britton and right-hander Darren O'Day, who both had ERAs well below 2.00.

Five weeks after Brach rejoined the team for good, the Orioles made the bullpen even better when they acquired left-handed reliever Andrew Miller.

"It was something special. You could just tell the team was on a good roll and that we had a good bit of everything," Brach said. "We were pitching well; we had a good bullpen, and we could hit. It was one of those things where we were a real special team. As you're going through, you kind of realize that team was going to do something good that year."

Brach was seemingly in the right place at the right time. He won seven of his eight decisions with the Orioles and had a 3.18 ERA.

It seemed whenever there was a big comeback win, Brach was always the pitcher of record. That continued into the postseason, when Brach won the second game of the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers after pinch-hitter Delmon Young hit a three-run double in the eighth to put the Orioles ahead.

After pitching well for the Orioles in 2014, Brach fulfilled a goal the following season.

"I always liked to think I had confidence in myself that I could get to that level, but, realistically, just wanted to just stick with someone and not necessarily have a role, but stick with a team and stay up an entire year," Brach said. "In ‘15, I was able to get that opportunity. I didn't get off to the best start, but I was able to turn it around, and I think from there, it was the turning point in my career, just being able to stay in the big leagues for an entire season."

In 2015, Brach was 5-3 with a 2.72 ERA and picked up his first save.

"It gave me a lot of confidence in 2016," Brach said.

Last year, when O'Day missed half the season with injuries, Brach moved into higher-leverage situations and blossomed. During the season's first half, he was 6-1 with a 0.91 ERA and was rewarded with an All-Star selection.

He got to experience his first All-Star game back in San Diego.

"It was incredible. Kind of like a whirlwind because there's a lot going on," Brach said. "I didn't know where I needed to be and what I needed to do. When you get there, you get an itinerary, and especially having to fly across the country, everything was going like crazy when I first got there. It was awesome getting to go back to San Diego, especially in that stadium where I started my career."

Brach and Britton were both on the AL team, and even though Brach didn't get to pitch, the days were special.

"I flew out my entire family and my wife Jenae's entire family," he said. "It was kind of nice to have everybody there because you never know if you're going to get that opportunity again. When I got to stand on the line there and hear my name announced with all the other guys, you look across the field and it's the best players in the game, it's an extremely humbling experience."

This season, when Britton was injured, Brach took over the closer's role, and for a time in June, he became the undisputed bullpen leader when O'Day was down, too.

"Injuries are just part of the game. For me, it was unfortunate Darren and Zach got hurt," Brach said. "I saw it as an opportunity, and I just didn't want to waste it because you never know how many of them you'll get in the game."

The opportunities Brach has gained from his baseball career also led him to his wife.

As a minor-leaguer, Brach was playing in Nashville, Tenn., and one night he and a friend decided to bar-hop.

"We started at the corner and kind of popped our head in each one," Brach recalled. "We walked past this one, and it looked like a dump. It was called Paradise Park. We heard a girl singing, and we were kind of like, ‘Let's go check it out.' We were just going to pop in for a couple of songs, and we ended up staying the rest of the night."

Brach instantly fell for the singer -- country music recording artist Jenae Cherry.

"I just asked her to lunch the next day and somehow she said yes," Brach said. "We kind of kept in contact from there. I kind of made a deal with her before I left Nashville: If I get called up to the major leagues, will you fly out to San Diego for a series? At the time she told me she thought it was like if she ever became Carrie Underwood, she'd get me backstage passes. She thought it was like way off -- that there was no way that was going to happen. It ended up happening. She came out and saw a series before the end of the year."

The Brachs have been married since November 2013. Jenae has performed before Orioles games, and last year her song, "Don't Miss the Magic," was played after Orioles wins.

Despite the ups and downs he experienced early in his career, Brach has found his place in the Orioles' bullpen.

"When you're down in the bullpen, instead of just wasting time talking about nonsense, you can sit down there and you can learn a lot," Brach said. "Definitely take the opportunities and talk about baseball, too. The nonsense is the fun part, too.  That's the part you always remember, especially when you're done playing; the fun times are what you always remember." 

Issue 235: July 2017