Brach has growing role in sophomore season

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Brad Brach has the coaching staff's undivided attention. Brach, who thrived as a rookie reliever for the Padres last season, came into Spring Training with a chance to carve out a bigger role for himself, and if manager Bud Black has anything to do with it, he's well on his way.

Black, one of just two big league managers who previously served as a pitching coach, spent some time discussing his second-year reliever on Sunday, and he came away with a laundry list of things that Brach can do to solidify himself as a bullpen linchpin for several years to come.

"Brad Brach can paint that fastball down and away to a righty and lefty," said Black. "He can elevate the fastball up when he needs to and throw that slider for a strike when he's behind in the count. Throw it down below the strike zone when he's ahead in the count. Not fall behind hitters like he did [Saturday]. Get ahead in the count. That's what he can do. And you know what? I've told him that."

Indeed, if you ask Brach, he'll repeat many of the same statements. The 26-year-old said Sunday that he has to pound the strike zone and be more aggressive, but he also took an interesting diversion.

Brach said that he has to be better at reading big league scouting reports, but he also has to understand when to take that advice and when to file it away and go with his best stuff. That's all part of the learning process, though, and Brach said it's an entirely natural step in his development.

"It was awesome last year," he said of pitching with the Padres. "It's a dream come true to make it up there and it's everything you can imagine. It's probably the best learning experience I could've had. It's like you're learning on the job, and you can't substitute that with anything else except being up here. You're just learning every day, and every day you go out there you learn something new."

Brach was promoted to the Majors for the first time in 2011, but he made 67 appearances with the Padres last year and logged a 3.78 ERA. The right-hander rang up more strikeouts (75) than hits allowed (50), and he said that it was hard to stay within himself at points of the season.

"A few times when I was struggling a little, it got overwhelming because you put so much pressure on yourself to do well," he said. "And anytime you do that, you're setting yourself up for failure. I think the biggest thing is to stay within myself and not really worry from outing to outing. "

Brach, a New Jersey native who was selected in the 42nd round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, said that his transition to the Majors has been eased by playing with many of the same he faces he saw in the Minors. And now that he's had a taste of success, he's developed some simple goals.

"I want to be up here all year and hopefully at one point get one of the bigger innings -- the seventh or the eighth -- to be pitching those innings when you're winning," he said. "I think that's everybody's goal as a reliever. Hopefully, I can get one of those jobs, solidify it and stay there."

That's all there for the taking, and if Brach is listening, he has a manager who's looking out for him.

"I like Brach. His heart's in the right spot," said Black. "He gets it. He's competitive. I'm on him."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.