STOCKTON, CA — With a fearless approach on the mound and plenty of deception, Stockton Ports' closer Brendan McCurry has made life miserable for opposing hitters since he turned pro with the Oakland A's last year.
Making the transition from position player to pitcher isn’t supposed to be easy. Neither is making the transition from college pitcher to professional pitcher. Right now, the Ports’ right-hander is making both look like child’s play.
The former Roff High School star began his collegiate career at Howard Junior College in Texas. At Howard, McCurry starred as a middle infielder, posting OPSs of 968 and 909 his two seasons at the school. McCurry also dabbled on the mound, posting a 4.22 ERA as a freshman.
It was McCurry’s bat that got him an initial opportunity with Oklahoma State, but McCurry soon became much more valuable to the Cowboys on the mound. He appeared in just 13 games as a position player during his first season in Stillwater, but he made an impact on the mound that year, saving eight games and posting a 2.72 ERA in 46.1 innings.
That effort wasn’t enough to get McCurry’s name called in the 2013 draft, so he returned to Stillwater for his senior season in 2014 as the Cowboys’ closer. McCurry dominated in that role, allowing just two earned runs in 47.1 innings. He saved 19 games and put together a 54:8 K:BB. That performance earned McCurry a spot in professional baseball as the Oakland A’s 22nd round pick.
McCurry’s transition from college to pro ball was even more seamless than his transition from middle infield to the mound. He appeared in 17 games for the AZL A’s, Low-A Beloit Snappers and High-A Stockton Ports in his pro debut and was nearly perfect. In 28.2 innings, McCurry allowed just one run on 14 hits. He struck-out 34 and walked just three.
McCurry has excelled as a closer since taking on pitching full-time, but he doesn’t have traditional closer’s stuff. His fastball generally sits in the 88-91 MPH range. However, hitters often react to McCurry’s fastball as if it is coming at them at a much higher rate of speed thanks to the deception he offers with his delivery – or deliveries, to be more precise. Thanks to his upbringing as a middle infielder, McCurry has two different arm slots that he throws from – a more traditional release point and a sidearm slot that more closely mimics the throw from shortstop.
McCurry says he developed the sidearm throwing motion almost on accident.
“I grew up playing middle infield my whole life and I threw everything across the infield sidearm,” McCurry said last week in Stockton. “When I got to Oklahoma State, I was just messing around in the bullpen and was throwing sidearm. The coach liked it and we stuck with it and I started doing both.”
This season – McCurry’s first full professional campaign – has been an extension of the success he had in 2014. In 29 games for the Ports thus far this year, McCurry has a 2.41 ERA in 37.1 innings. He has struck-out more than a batter an inning (43), walked only 10 and has a 1.64 GO/AO. McCurry has saved 17 games in 18 chances. He has been particularly good as of late, last allowing a run on June 4, a span of 11 appearances. During that stretch, he has allowed just four hits and four walks while striking out nine in 11 innings.
McCurry got a brief taste of the California League at the end of last season, when he was promoted to Stockton for the final week of the schedule. McCurry made one regular season appearance for the Ports and then threw 2.1 scoreless innings in the post-season. He says that even that limited exposure to the Cal League helped to prepare him for his time with Stockton this season.
“I got to see a few of the hitters last year and I got to see a few of the scouting reports, so I had some feel for what was here and it has definitely carried over this year,” McCurry said.
While McCurry’s days as an infielder are in the rearview mirror, he does look back wistfully on those days.
“It hasn’t been bad,” McCurry said of making the full-time transition to the mound. “I hated it at first, but now I realize that it was what was best for me because I wouldn’t have made it as a position player.”
Sometimes McCurry has to fight off those infielder instincts when on the mound.
“I get myself in trouble sometimes because I try to go after balls that I have no business trying to go get, but that’s just part of it,” he said.
McCurry uses his experience as a hitter to help him when choosing his pitch sequences.
“I wasn’t a terrible hitter, so I know what hitters are looking for in certain counts, so that [experience] has definitely made it a lot easier,” McCurry said.
With the two different arm angles, McCurry not only has the ability to mix up his types of pitches, but also his release points. Depending on the situation, McCurry will often mix in the different arm angles in the same at-bat. He says that his sidearm slider is his best swing-and-miss pitch to righties and the change-up works best to lefties.
“We have been switching it up pretty well this season,” McCurry said. “Different hitters are going to get different sequences and, of course, the scouting report is going to be different for each hitter. It just depends on what the hitter likes.”
Staying on the same page with his catchers can be a challenge, but McCurry has had a good working relationship with Beau Taylor and Nick Rickles in Stockton this year (Rickles was promoted to Double-A Midland last week) and that has eliminated any confusion as to what angle he will be using with each pitch.
“When Rickles was here, we had an indicator [about which arm angle he would use],” McCurry said. “With Beau, he just says ‘throw and I’ll catch it.’ He hasn’t missed any, so we have been good with that one.”
McCurry has always used an aggressive approach on the mound and hasn’t been afraid to challenge hitters. He loves the challenge of pitching with the game on-the-line. With his success in that role thus far, he is likely to continue to get plenty of late-game chances.
“I like pitching in that situation,” he said. “It’s fun to be pitching in situations with a tight lead at the end of a game. You just have to go right at ‘em. There isn’t much to it.”