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Huascar Brazoban emerges as reliable Marlins reliever

Brazoban has exceeded expectations in his first full MLB season.

Photo by Danis Sosa/Fish Stripes

When the Miami Marlins signed Dominican Huascar Brazoban to a minor league deal, nobody expected him to be what he is today. Exactly one year ago, Brazoban was an inconsistent reliever for Triple-A Jacksonville with a 4.96 ERA, 5.04 FIP and 4.40 BB/9. But through 22 13 innings pitched this season, Brazoban has trimmed those numbers in half (2.01 ERA, 2.55 FIP and 2.42 BB/9) and made himself a key piece of the major league bullpen.

“You know, I’ve been talking to [Marlins bullpen coach] Wellington (Cepeda) on this matter, and he told me my pitches are good, but they were landing outside of the strike zone,” said Brazoban through Marlins interpreter Luis Dorante Jr. “So in AAA, some of these things I was getting swing-and -misses, and now at this level, they’re actually holding on and taking the ball. So yeah, I’m just throwing to throw those same pitches from the structure.”

In 2022, when the Marlins originally called up Brazoban, he showed potential when it came to the quality of his stuff and his versatility to get outs in a variety of situations. However, it did not seem sustainable. The rookie made 21 appearances of at least one full inning and allowed baserunners in 19 of them. He led the Marlins with seven wild pitches despite throwing only 32 MLB innings and frequently got behind in the count. His FIP (3.99) was nearly a run higher than his ERA (3.09).

So what has changed for Brazoban, who enters Friday’s game on a month-long scoreless streak?

“I think the success this season mostly is about me trusting my fastball,” said Brazoban. “Last season, I was not trusting my fastball.”

The 33-year-old has taken Cepeda’s feedback to heart in regards to attacking the strike zone. As shown on Baseball Savant, Brazoban has a higher in-zone rate with each of his pitches in 2023 compared to 2022. The biggest difference is his sinker—his zone rate with that pitch has doubled, from 28.1% to 58.2%. He’s also using the sinker more often than the four-seamer.

Baseball Savant

“You guys see the results and you see the movement that the pitch has and that the batter is reacting to it, so that’s what I have been looking at,” said Brazoban about his sinker. “Yeah, just throwing it out because it’s getting better results.”

This season, we have seen Brazoban in basically every spot in the game. He has pitched as early as the third inning and as late as the 11th. He’s worked by far the most total innings of any Marlins reliever and inherited the most baserunners. In high-leverage situations, hitters are slashing .235/.300/.235/.535. Clearly, he has earned the trust of Skip Schumaker.

Look back at the middle game of the series in Chicago. Miami brought in Brazoban to protect a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning. By his standards, it was a struggle. After striking out Nick Madrigal and getting Tucker Barnhart to ground out, Brazoban loaded the bases on a single and two walks. But in a 3-2 count against Seiya Suzuki, with no margin for error, he had the composure to execute a knee-high cutter and record the swinging strikeout.

From Brazoban: “Obviously every reliever would love to have a ninth-inning situation, but every day, I just continue communicating with Beef (Wellington Cepeda) on what the role of the day is gonna be and I adjust to that. I can throw three innings and difficult situations stuff like that. Just have to adjust.”

For the Marlins to continue playing at a .500 pace, they’ll need to keep succeeding in close games, and their bullpen is arguably the biggest key to that. Brazoban just took the team lead in win probability added—his 1.11 WPA is seventh-best among all qualified MLB relievers.

When asked about his personal goals for 2023 and the remainder of his career, Brazoban mentioned staying healthy and just doing what he is doing right now.

Noah Berger contributed to this report.