It’s common for players to be good at self-motivation, but few are willing to approach a manager and ask for an extra boost.
Injuries kept Rex Brothers on and off of major-league rosters for the last six years, but in his second season with the Cubs, he feels like he’s back on track.
Not just because he’s healthy again, but because he has a different perspective on being a major-league pitcher. Much of this has come from the birth of his twin sons three years ago.
“They went through quite the battle in the NICU in 2018,” Brothers said. “Since then, it’s been a lot easier to keep baseball where it needs to be.”
Cubs manager David Ross is learning from Brothers, too. It’s common for most players to be good at self-motivating, but few are willing to approach a manager and ask for an extra push.
“Let me know when you need more out of me,” Brothers said of his conversation with Ross. “If you see me slacking, flat out tell me, ‘Hey, I need you to pick it up here or just be better.’ Throughout my life, I feel like I respond better that way.
Brothers’ openness to an external push goes back to his rookie season with the Rockies in 2011. Back then, first baseman Todd Helton would get his attention on the mound when he saw an inning getting away or Brothers falling behind in the count too often.
Brothers told Ross about that experience and asked that he approach him the same way.
“Sometimes guys just need a kick in the rear end, and pushed a little bit harder, and can handle a little more honesty than you give them credit for,” Ross said.
After earning his first save since 2013 on Friday, Brothers has a 3.00 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 12 innings through 17 appearances.
HBP on the rise
The number of batters hit by a pitch has increased steadily for decades. Since the mid-1990s, it has grown by about 40 per year. In 2019, MLB had its highest rate since 1900.
This year has not bucked that trend. Ross believes that some of the spike this season is because of how younger pitchers spent the last year.
“You’re throwing indoors, sometimes into a net, maybe not even a catcher, and a lot of times not to a hitter,” Ross said. “You’re just throwing and getting data from the Rapsodos and the Trackmans and all the technology and trying to spin it rather than competing to zones with hitters.”
Add increased velocity and decreased control, and it has become a scary situation for hitters. Ross said he’s had some informal conversations with people around the league about keeping batters safe. One idea that has come up is something that would mimic high-sticking penalties in hockey.
But ultimately Ross thinks it boils down to pitchers improving their command.
“We’ve emphasized pitch data a lot in our game right now, instead of maybe just getting outs and pitchability. That has factored into it,” Ross said.
Starter Jake Arrieta and infielder Nico Hoerner both continued rehab work Saturday. Arrieta went on the 10-day injured list on May 4 with a right thumb abrasion; he threw a bullpen session. Hoerner hit the 10-day IL on May 3 with a left forearm strain and did infield drills before Saturday’s game.