Marshall Starting To Pick It Up

Brett Marshall’s last two starts have been gems. On May 2, at the Clearwater Thrashers, he struck out nine batters in five innings. On May 7, he allowed just one run through six innings while holding Lakeland to a .105 batting average. Based on those two starts, it’s hard to imagine how Marshall’s ERA is still hovering just under seven. But it is and apart from those two appearances, it’s been pretty ugly.

Marshall, a sixth round draft pick in 2008, was ineffective in April, pitching to an ERA of nine through the first month of the season. His troubles hit a peak on April 22 against Dunedin when he only made it through 1.2 innings while allowing eight earned runs and not striking anyone out.

It should be noted that this isn’t the typical Brett Marshall. The 21-year-old managed an ERA of 2.57 last season in his first stint with Tampa, with a strikeout to walk ratio of 70:26. It’s hard to put a finger on what’s been troubling the righty.

“I’m trying to get back the arm action and mechanics and get back to last year,” said Marshall. “It takes some time to get back but I’m starting to find it a lot better now.”

Although the physical may play a large part, one of the biggest improvements Marshall has made is in his mental game. He says the focus he brings to the mound is key to the consistency and effectiveness of his pitching. Although the focus is a broad idea, he says he’s working on honing on specific aspects of concentration.

“I’m really focusing on each pitch I make,” he says. “Each pitch I make is valuable.”

Marshall’s repertoire consists of a four-seam fastball, a two-seam sinker, a change-up, and a newly developed slider.

The slider is a pitch that Marshall stopped throwing for two years before beginning again last season. He says that in the 2009-2010 campaign, it wasn’t nearly as effective as it is now.

Tampa’s pitching coach, Jeff Ware, agrees and explains that when Marshall came into the Yankees’ organization, the slider was a similar velocity to his fastball, which made the pitch more of a cutter than an off-speed breaking ball. Once a few miles per hour were taken off the pitch, it became the strikeout pitch it is today. Ware says the slider was the key to Marshall’s May 2, nine k performance.

“He’s able to use his secondary pitches in fastball counts. That keeps hitters off balance,” says Ware.

The strikeouts are a bit of an anomaly though, as Marshall’s usual game-plan involves quick at-bats and quick outs. Ware says that a goal he and Marshall have for every at-bat is to record an out within three pitches.

His sinker is his most reliable pitch, and he recorded 1.7 ground out for every fly out last year. Ware says that Marshall has the stuff for big strike-out numbers, it’s just not an efficient way to go about their business. They would rather have him go seven or eight innings with a low pitch count than five innings with eight strikeouts.

Ware, who’s in his third year working with Marshall, isn’t shy when discussing what he thinks of Marshall’s collection of pitches.

“He’s got a power arm, a good fastball, he’s got a good, hard, true slider, and he’s got a change-up that has some bottom to it,” Ware says. “So when he’s throwing those three pitches for strikes, he’s very difficult to hit.”

Although his previous few outings do lend themselves to optimism, the Tampa Yankees’ record sits at 10-21 and Marshall’s at 2-4. He isn’t the only one struggling to right a very tumultuous April, which could be viewed as a negative point. Marshall sees it opposite.

“It’s good that we’re all struggling instead of one person or one part,” Marshall says. “At least it’s all as a team and then eventually we can all turn that around. And I think we will; we’re working really hard.”

Marshall is working exceptionally hard this season, watching film, working on his muscle memory (to repeat his delivery, says Coach Ware), and even watching catching drills to be more in sync with his battery mates.

Wins have been few and far between for the Yankees, but he continues to look to improve, and there’s still a lot to be learned and gained from his first seven starts. His ERA won’t stay above six for much longer says Coach Ware, but either way, Marshall is going to keep pushing, working, and pitching.

“I don’t worry about my numbers right now,” Marshall says. “I like to go out there and pitch as well as I can and try to help get a victory for our team.”

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