Austin Brough was a week away from giving up baseball. He was working out in Florida following his release from the independent Windy City Thunderbolts, and thought it was about time to give up the dream.
Over a year removed from a less-than-stellar career at Western Illinois University, the fish just weren't biting on a professional career for the 6-foot-4 left-handed pitcher. He had just spent a winter washing cars for a living, and that was after a summer when he played in an independent ball developmental league which he didn't even get paid for.
So Brough was thinking maybe his time to play professionally just wasn't going to come. Then he got a call from the Phillies a week before he was planning on returning home to Clifton, Ill. He was assigned to Williamsport six days after the start of the New York-Penn League season to help a bullpen that was short on arms.
And since arriving, the 23-year old has been nothing short of brilliant. He's pitched in long relief, eating up multiple innings at a time. He's pitched in short relief, getting three crucial outs. And he's even pitched out of the back end of the bullpen, earning one save in his lone opportunity.
His 0.93 ERA is the best on the team minus Perci Garner's flawless ERA in his one appearance. His peripheral numbers are nothing Earth-shattering, but he continually finds a way to get outs. He's become an important cog in a bullpen that has been the strength of the Crosscutters this year.
"Everybody's route here was different. I don't think it make anybody better or worse because of it," Brough said following batting practice Sunday afternoon. "I think my particular situation has kept things in perspective for me. I don't think it's a bad thing at all. It's definitely a good thing to get the opportunity to play. It keeps me focused and keeps my head on straight and I don't stray too far from that because I know how difficult it is to get here and how lucky I am."
Brough said it would definitely be easier to prepare for his role with the Cutters if he had a clearly defined role with the team. But it's his flexibility, and his ability to pitch in any situation that has added to his importance to an already dominant bullpen.
Understanding the situation he's being thrown into on a nightly basis varies the way Brough works when he does get on the mound. When he's going longer into games he tries to be more efficient to be able to get through his three or four innings. When he's in for a one inning stint, he's rearing back and firing his fastball as hard as he can.
"He's been one guy we can bring in to a key situation in the game, and (Saturday) he gave us three solid innings," Cutters hitting coach Jorge Velandia said. "We're happy with the job he's done for us."
"It's always good when I feel like they're confident in me and I'm confident in me," Brough said. "It makes it a lot easier when I do go out there mentally to be prepared knowing they have confidence in me."
Brough never really had pro scouts beating down his door. He had one scout who followed him through college only because the scout had seen him throw while he was scouting one of Brough's teammates. But even as a 6-4 southpaw with a projectionable frame that scouts love Brough wasn't getting any feelers other than the two questionnaires he filled out for pro teams.
In three years at Western Illinois, Brough surrendered 168 hits in 107 1/3 innings pitched. He walked 50 and struck out 74 during that time. And his career 9.31 ERA wasn't exactly something to get excited about.
"That was tough to deal with. It was discouraging a lot," Brough said. "At the same time I was a little nave and a little ignorant to the fact that nobody thought I could play. It ended up working out for me. I think that helped with my persistence in terms of not letting people tell me what I could and couldn't do. With my size it was always a potential thing. I got here a little bit later than everyone else, but eventually I figured it out to the point that it got me here and I'm trying to do the best I can with what I have."
Brough is still giving up his fair share of hits as opponents are hitting .290 against him (20 hits in 19 1/3 innings). But his command has been much better than it was in college (11 strikeouts, 3 walks).
Where Brough has been downright stingy has been with runners on base. Opponents are hitting .313 against him to lead off an inning, but just .161 with runners on base, and .176 with runners in scoring position.
"I try not to look at this as redemption. I try to look at it as this is what I was capable of the whole time," Brough said. "It's nice to know that maybe one or two people out there who didn't think I could do it are now rethinking it. But it's not about them. It's about me making the best of the opportunity I have now. It's kept me humble, kept my head on straight and kept me focused. It's been a long road, it's been tough. I'm just appreciating everything I have so far. I'm not taking anything for granted."
THE WRIGHT MOVE: Starting pitcher Austin Wright was promoted to low-A Lakewood on Sunday. To take his place on the roster, the Crosscutters activated right-hand pitcher Perci Garner from the disabled list.
Garner has been on the DL since July 5 after straining his right oblique for the second time this season. In his one appearance Garner was filthy, pitching 1 2/3 scoreless inning, striking out three.
Wright has been one of the Cutters' most consistent starters since he was moved into the rotation after the first week of the season. In eight appearances (seven starts), Wright was 3-1 with a 3.38 ERA. He showcased a big league breaking ball to go along with his fastball from the left side. He was second in the New York-Penn League with 44 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings. He also has one of the five complete games in the league this year, although it was a five-inning, rain-shortened win on Thursday.