When Tim Brown took the mound for the Wichita Wingnuts in Game 1 of the American Association playoff semifinals against Sioux City on Wednesday, the last thing anyone expected was a lapse in control.
Brown never has those.
In 124 2/3 innings during the Wingnuts’ regular season, the 29-year-old Brown, a right-hander, walked five. That’s one literally every blue moon.
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Brown issued free passes to .009 percent of the 518 batters he faced, a statistic that doesn’t seem plausible.
But in Game 1 against Sioux City, Brown walked three in four innings. He also gave up nine hits as the Wingnuts dropped Game 1, 6-5. Wichita evened the series with a win in Game 2 and the series moved Wichita for Games 3, 4 and, if necessary, 5.
Brown, a St. Louis native who attended Johnson County Community College and Pittsburg State, has no explanation for his sudden spate of control issues against Sioux City other than the one baseball players use often — it’s just baseball.
“I was just missing with my pitches a bit,” he said. “That’s just baseball and, especially, playoff baseball. You can kind of throw regular-season stats out the window.”
Brown has spent most of his eight-year professional career pitching in independent leagues and is finishing his third season with the Wingnuts.
His regular-season record in Wichita is 29-10, despite giving up 464 hits in 385 2/3 innings and striking out only 175. That’s because he’s walked only 44.
“I’ve always kind of been with the impression that to throw the ball consistently where you want it to be thrown, you have to be consistent with the things you do mechanically,” Brown said. “And from the mental aspect, you have to attack the zone, attack the hitter.”
There’s nothing complex about Brown’s mechanics or the assortment of pitches he throws. It’s not really an assortment, Brown says, because he depends on a two-seam fastball “90-95 percent of the time.”
The key is to locate the pitch and let the movement of the ball take care of the rest. Because Brown doesn’t throw hard — he sits in the mid-80s with his fastball — he relies on the ball sinking as it approaches the plate.
Hitters are usually going to make contact, but Brown’s design is for that contact to be weak.
“I’m not looking for a swing and a miss with that pitch or even necessarily a strike,” he said. “It’s about getting the hitter to put the ball in play with weak contact and go from there. You’re going to give up your share of hits with balls put in play. But you’re also going to get a lot of groundball double plays.”
Walks, in Brown’s world, defeat the purpose.
He’s had pinpoint control at least since his two seasons at Pittsburg State, 2008 and 2009, when he walked 13 in 140 2/3 innings.
His junior season, though, was a struggle. Brown’s father, Bob, died just after the start of the season and Brown finished 4-4 with a 6.68 ERA.
“I had a lot of things on my mind other than baseball at that time,” Brown said. “My dad coached my teams when I was really young and when I got to be about 12 or so he left that up to other people. But he was at every game, he made all the road trips.”
Brown’s senior season with the Gorillas was better. He was 8-4 with a 3.71 ERA and later that year joined Lincoln in the American Association. He pitched in seven games for the Philadelphia Phillies’ Gulf Coast League team in 2010 but that’s his only experience in affiliated baseball.
“All I ever wanted to do was go out and play ball,” said Brown, who accepts his chances of a return to affiliated baseball are remote. “You never say never and when you’re younger, it’s always the goal to get to the big leagues. But at some point you just realize that you’re getting paid to play baseball every day and that you’ve been able to travel the world and do other fun things with the game.”
Brown, who isn’t married, said he wants to keep pitching as long as he’s able.
“Playing is too much fun not to want to continue playing,” he said. “As long as I’m still competing and everything like that, I want to keep doing it. Because once it’s gone, you don’t get it back.”
As long as Brown maintains his freakish control, it’s hard to imagine he won’t find a spot on somebody’s pitching staff. Five walks in almost 125 innings? It defies logic.
“The last time I walked three in a game — that would have to have been a while,” he said. “I don’t really remember. But sometimes those nights just happen.”