A long journey leads to a memorable and meaningful debut for a Marlins reliever

·5 min read
Joseph Guzy/Miami Marlins

Right-handed relief pitcher Huascar Brazoban walked into the visiting team clubhouse at PNC Park on Sunday about two hours before first pitch and saw a jersey with his name on it hanging at a locker in the back corner of the room.

“I started feeling chills,” Brazoban said.

At the time, all he knew was that he was being added to the Miami Marlins’ taxi squad.

About an hour later, he was added to the big-league roster.

About three hours after that, he was making his way to the mound to make his MLB debut at 32 years old.

The task: Help the Marlins preserve their one-run lead against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Brazoban did just that, working around a two-out single for a scoreless seventh inning in the Marlins’ eventual 6-5, 10-inning win.

That inning, those 13 pitches he threw, served as a moment of validation for Brazoban. Prior to the Marlins signing him to a minor-league deal this offseason, Brazoban hadn’t played for an MLB affiliated team since 2017. That four-season gap included a pair of stops in the independent Atlantic League and time playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Venezuela.

Many around him had doubts his career would pan out.

Not Brazoban.

“The journey was so long,” Brazoban said, “that a lot of people continued to tell me indirectly to try something else. I just kept going. I thank God that he gave me this talent and I kept going forward.”

The Marlins ultimately were the team that gave him a chance. When they gave him the offer for a minor-league deal, Brazoban said he knew “this is where I have to goal.”

“We thought this guy might be a little bit of a surprise for us,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said.

“It was my goal just to earn a spot,” Brazoban added.

And he thrived.

In 27 appearances for Triple A Jacksonville, mostly in high-leverage situations, Brazoban pitched to a 3.18 ERA with 59 strikeouts against 16 walks over 45 1/3 innings. Opponents hit just .198 against him. He primarily throws a sinker that touches 98 mph and a changeup that induces swings and misses. He is also working on a slider.

His performance, coupled with a pair of injuries at the MLB level, earned him the opportunity to get an MLB call up on Sunday.

With Miami’s bullpen low on options after using several of their key arms Saturday, Brazoban immediately found himself in a high-leverage spot in his debut.

But he showed no fear.

Brazoban struck out Oneil Cruz on four pitches, all changeups, for the first out of his big-league career. The strikeout ball.

Yoshi Tsutsugo grounded out to shortstop Miguel Rojas for the second out before Jason Delay hit a two-out single to put the tying run on the basepaths. Brazoban stranded him when Kevin Newman hit into an inning-ending groundout.

Brazoban’s first big-league moment is in the books. He hopes it’s not the last.

“Now that I’m at the major league level, I have to take advantage of this situation,” Brazoban said. “I’m very grateful and thankful for where I’m at and hopefully I can do what I have to do here and finish my career at this level.”

Kahlil Watson returns

After being away from the organization for three weeks for disciplinary reasons, shortstop and 2021 first-round pick Kahlil Watson returned to action on Friday with the Marlins’ rookie-level Florida Complex league affiliate.

Watson, the third-ranked prospect in Miami’s system and No. 50 overall prospect in baseball according to MLB Pipeline, started at shortstop and batted third in the lineup on both Friday and Saturday. He went 0 for 2 with two strikeouts on Friday and 2 for 2 with a double, home run, two walks, two RBI and three runs scored on Saturday.

More minor league notables

Shortstop Nasim Nunez, Miami’s No. 17 prospect, is hitting .320 (16 for 50) with a .528 on-base percentage and .908 on-base-plus slugging mark in July for the High A Beloit Sky Carp. He has drawn 22 walks compared to 16 strikeouts and is also a perfect 16 for 16 on stolen base attempts so far this month to bring his season total to 46 stolen bases.

Infielder Yiddi Cappe, ranked as the Marlins’ No. 12 prospect, was promoted Single A Jupiter after hitting .310 with seven doubles, six home runs, 25 RBI and 23 runs scored over 29 against with the Marlins’ FCL affiliate. Through three games in Jupiter, Cappe is 6 for 11 (.545) at the plate.

Right-handed pitcher Zach McCambley’s last three outings for the Double A Pensacola Blue Wahoos: Five earned runs allowed over 17 2/3 innings (a 2.55 ERA) on eight hits and six walks with 21 strikeouts.

Draft signings

The Marlins have signed 13 of their 20 picks from the 2022 MLB Draft. In addition to first-round pick third baseman Jacob Berry and second-round pick right-handed pitcher Jacob Miller, the club has also agreed to terms with right-handed pitcher Josh White (Round 5), right-handed pitcher Kyle Crigger (Round 7), left-handed pitcher Dale Stanavich (Round 8), Evan Taylor (Round 9), left-handed pitcher Cade Gibson (Round 10), right-handed pitcher Alex Williams (Round 11), outfielder Chase Luttrell (Round 13), infielder Torin Montgomery (Round 14), right-handed Ike Buxton (Round 15), catcher Spencer Bramwell (Round 18) and catcher Carmine Lane (Round 19).

Miami has also signed four non-drafted free agents: Right-handed pitcher Matthew Pushard (University of Maine), right-handed pitcher Tristan Stevens (University of Texas), outfielder Jake Thompson (Oklahoma State University) and infielder Josh Zamora (University of Nevada).

The deadline to sign draft picks is Aug. 1.

Miami has seven draft picks who have yet to sign: right-handed pitcher Karson Milbrandt (Round 3), right-handed pitcher Marcus Johnson (Round 4), right-handed pitcher Jared Poland (Round 6), left-handed pitcher Cole Kirschsieper (Round 12), infielder Brett Roberts (Round 16), right-handed pitcher Evan Chrest (Round 17) and right-handed pitcher Jack Gowen (Round 20).