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The remarkable story of how Ryan Brasier landed with Red Sox

Rob Bradford
August 11, 2018 - 12:07 pm

Ryan Brasier was a guy. Just a guy.

The presence of innocuous 30-somethings in spring training isn't out of the ordinary, particularly when it comes to road games. The teams need to bring extra pitchers just in case things get out of hand, with no guarantee they will see the mound, and usually, that group is made of either really, really young players or guys like Brasier. It's called "backing up" a game.

But Brasier's presence at Hammond Stadium in mid-March was a bit different, as Joe Kelly found out.

"The first time I saw him he was backing up a spring training game against the Twins for us," Kelly remembered. "But when I talked to him he told me he hadn't thrown any live bullpens, hadn't faced any hitters in spring training ... at all. And there he was."

It wasn't until March 14 until the 30-year-old got into a Grapefruit League game, going on to pitch six times. But Brasier's existence wasn't really on the radar of those who would ultimately become his teammates, not because he wasn't good, but due to when he was pitching in these games. By the time the late innings roll around in a lot of spring training contests, the regulars are in their cars headed to the golf course.

Brasier didn't even share a locker in the same room as the rest of the spring training participants, dressing with minor-leaguers usually 10 years younger than he was. There were always some of these guys, most never coming close to the real Red Sox locker room.

Five months later, Ryan Brasier is no longer just a guy. He is THE guy.

"Most people don't know Ryan Brasier, right? I mean, he's 30," said Dave Dombrowski the day after deciding Brasier was better than anything he could have gotten at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. "He was a quality prospect with Anaheim, he got hurt, goes to Japan, pitches well, comes back. But if he'd have come in the game last night and he had a star name on the back of his jersey, the comments would be, 'Wow, this guy's really good.' But because they don't know him really well, that's not the comments you get. But I've seen many guys that are unknown perform very well for you and big names not necessarily perform very well. He doesn't get rattled. He's been around. Sure, I think the performance of those guys has made a difference for us."

"It’s an organizational win," said Red Sox director of professional scouting Gus Quattlebaum. "And it’s also reassuring for guys who are in Ryan’s shoes that you can make a big league club in a pennant race off the roster. You don’t have to necessarily have that roster spot. It’s truly a meritocracy. If you’re pitching well, you’re going to get a shot."

He has absolutely taken advantage of his opportunity. Brasier has become one of the Red Sox' most reliable relievers over the past month, allowing just two runs over his 14 2/3 innings. It has undoubtedly been a far more memorable run since his only other foray into the major leagues, a seven-appearance stay with the Angels ... 49 months before!

But what is just as remarkable as what Brasier has been able to do for the best team in baseball is how he got the chance to begin with.

Brasier was drafted by the Angels in the sixth-round of the 2007 draft, four spots after the Red Sox took Anthony Rizzo. His path wasn't all that out of the ordinary, working his way through the Los Angeles system before getting his big league chance in '13. But after that, it was a combination of Tommy John surgery and a whole lot of minor league games, with both the Angels and A's. Ultimately the righty landed in Japan.

This, however, isn't a story of how a pitcher rejuvenated his professional career in the Far East, returning a new man. By the time Brasier's season ended in 2017 he was still a minor leaguer, this time having to live that life in a completely different country.

Brasier knew his time in Japan was done heading into the offseason, ready to farm out his services to potentially interested big league teams. So the Texas native used a trip out to Arizona for his buddy's early January bachelor party as an opportunity to invite teams to watch him throw in Tempe. The Red Sox' invitation to the workout was delivered via an email personally from Braiser to Red Sox farm director Ben Crockett.

The Red Sox remembered Brasier from his previous stints with the Angels and A's, having a solid report on his breaking ball. It was good enough to send scout Steve Peck for a look-see. One problem: The attempt at a re-introduction was rained out. ("Which never happens in Arizona. He must have thought it wasn't meant to be," Quattlebaum said.)

"I thought I threw well. I thought I would have at least a couple of phone calls. But, crickets. I didn’t hear anything for a little more a month," Brasier said. "I honestly didn’t think it would be tough to find a job when I got back (from Japan)."

But Peck had liked what he saw, and how Brasier conducted himself. So when an opportunity arose in late February to fill some spring training innings, the Red Sox figured it was worth a very non-commital invitation.

When it was all said and done, they were the only team to respond. And the moment Brasier did start pitching for the Red Sox, there another surprise: his velocity.

All of a sudden the righty's fastball was being clocked in the high-90's, a reading that hadn't been there during the Arizona workout, and certainly not with the Angels or A's.

"After the first big league game, the scouts got our reports and we’re like, ‘Is that the right velo?’," Quattlebaum said. "It was impressive."

"Mostly they said they had some innings in spring training to cover. They told me going in I didn’t have a job. I had to pitch for a job," Brasier said. "Honestly, it was a good reason I pitched so well in spring training, knowing I had to do really do well to make a team, even a minor-league team. For all my stuff to come together like it did, it was perfect timing."

It hasn't stopped.

"Being on this team is all you can ask for," Brasier said. "From not having a job to being on the best team in baseball is a pretty crazy year. It’s unreal."