PHOENIX – An interesting debate in clubhouses everywhere is whether pitchers are better off pitching to their strengths or trying to attack the weaknesses of hitters, even when it doesn’t align with what they do best.
Mitch Bratt, on which side of the argument do you land?
“I would say pitching to my strengths,” says the 19-year-old Texas Rangers from Newmarket, Ont., tasked with facing the powerhouse Americans at the World Baseball Classic on Monday night. “I feel like when my strengths are on, not many hitters can make the most of what I’ve got. The game plan is to do what I do best and go forward and see what happens.”
Canadian manager Ernie Whitt enthusiastically said “I absolutely love hearing that,” and Bratt’s mindset is one of the reasons why a teenager is being tasked with such a challenging outing.
“There are so many times pitchers get away from their game instead of staying to the strength of their games,” added Whitt. “And to me I’ll take strength on strength anytime. I just want him to be himself. I want him to throw his arsenal and be comfortable doing it. If they hit it, they hit it.”
Challenging a well-regarded pitching prospect with an outing against the Americans isn’t new for Canada at the Classic, as 19-year-old Adam Loewen threw 3.2 shutout innings against the U.S. in 2006 and 21-year-old Jameson Taillon allowed two runs, one earned, in four frames in 2013.
Bratt, a fifth-round pick in 2021, struck out 99 batters in 80.2 innings over 19 games last year at low-A Down East and will look to follow in their footsteps.
He threw a bullpen on Saturday and while he watched some of the U.S.’s 6-2 win over Britain, “I haven’t thought about (the outing) too much because I feel like if I do, I might get overwhelmed a little bit. But looking forward to (Monday) and making the most of it.”
Bratt does peruse scouting reports but “usually it’s just picking out one weakness that the hitter has. I think last year towards the beginning I did a really good job of kind of picking out different things that the hitters weren’t good at. Towards the middle and end of the year I was thinking too much and I was playing the numbers game a little too much. At the end of the year I just didn’t look at the numbers at all. Going into (the start against the United States) I’m just not going to look at anything. Just kind of play it by ear and go from there.”
Prior to his warmup outing against the Chicago Cubs last week, Bratt went through the hitters with Cal Quantrill, the Cleveland Guardians right-hander who urged him to trust himself.
“I don’t claim to have answers – I’m still figuring it out as I go,” said Quantrill, “but you don’t change because the moment has changed. What you’ve done and what you’ve accomplished to get to the spot where you were invited to this team is enough. He’s got great stuff. And I just encouraged him, don’t worry about what name’s on the back of their jerseys. The same way you were getting high-school kids out last year is the same way as you’re going to try to get these guys out.
“There are lots of instances of big-leaguers going down on rehab stints and not performing well against players that they should be so much better. It’s go out, play the way you’ve always played the game and don’t worry too much about who that person is.”
MERCY RULE HELP: Though Cal Quantrill only got two outs in Sunday’s 18-8 Canada win, getting to mercy rule helped keep a couple of extra arms in the bank.
The Canadians are hoping to get two innings from Mitch Bratt before he hits his Rangers-imposed 50-pitch limit and then they can manage the game out from there.
They’ll likely have relievers Phillippe Aumont, Curtis Taylor, John Axford and Matt Brash lined up for Tuesday’s game against Colombia behind starter Noah Skirrow, with whoever pitches versus the Americans set for Mexico behind Rob Zastryzny in the finale Wednesday.
Quantrill’s short outing of 37 pitches leaves him eligible for games later in the round under tournament rules, but Whitt said he’s “probably down until the quarter-finals” should Canada get there.
WALKER KEEPS IT CHILL: Hall of Famer Larry Walker, coaching first base for Canada, can only recall being nervous once during his playing days.
“During the World Series when I was batting second for the Cardinals at Fenway Park, Steven Tyler from Aerosmith was singing the anthem,” he remembered. “I got nervous then because I’m a big fan. Otherwise, every game’s a deep breath, inhale, exhale and go do your job. Sometimes you fail, sometimes you succeed.”
He’s trying to impart that wisdom to the youngsters on the Canadian roster. They certainly kept their cool against Britain, calmly digging themselves out of an early 3-0 hole with steady, tenacious at-bats, but facing Lance Lynn and the Americans will be much different.
“When you’re young, the first thing you want to do is impress,” said Walker. “Even in batting practice, some of these guys think the way to impress us is to see how far they can hit it. That doesn’t mean anything. So it’s a matter of getting their emotions gathered and everybody handles it differently. It’s tough to teach the mental part of the game and I don’t think that at these young ages a lot of these kids are anywhere near that stage yet. They’ll work on that throughout their career as they get more exposure to big moments and big games.”