Brandon Beachy didn’t waste any time preparing for 2012.
A few days after the Atlanta Braves’ season ended with that 4-3, 13-inning loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Sept. 28, Beachy was back in the gym.
“I really built my day around (working out),” he said.
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His goal was to build arm strength and endurance to improve his ability and to go deeper in games and increase his innings.
Beachy pitched 141-2/3 innings last season, averaging about 5-2/3 innings in his 25 starts. He worked into the seventh or later in only four starts, but his pitch counts often were a result of his strikeout totals.
He led the Braves and National League rookies with 169 strikeouts. Beachy went 7-3 with a 3.68 ERA and struck out 10.7 hitters per nine innings. He had 15 no-decisions.
Beachy said he worked too deep in the count to too many hitters, which drove his pitch counts up and, ultimately, sent him to the bench quicker than he wanted.
“That’s a stat everyone likes to bring up, the strikeouts,” Beachy said. “But that’s one of the least important statistics, for me. I would like to get my innings pitched up and lower my walks, and then if I strike guys out at the same time, do those two things, that’s icing on the cake for me.”
Still, he deemed the season a success, since he became the fifth starter out of spring training — beating out the highly touted Mike Minor — and became one of the Braves’ most consistent starters even though he missed parts of May and June with an oblique strain.
Beachy came back strong from the injury with consecutive victories in late June. He allowed only seven hits and two runs and struck out 20 in a combined 12 innings.
July was tough, though, as he went 1-1 with three no decisions and suffered his worst loss when he gave up six runs and walked five in a 12-3 defeat at Colorado.
But Beachy pitched well in August with three wins, which helped lower his ERA to 3.31.
Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell saw Beachy’s potential and determination near the end of 2010, when he was called up to make three starts and twice shut down the Phillies but finished 0-2.
“He’s a guy, who two years ago was throwing out of the bullpen in Double-A, and he was able to move up and got an opportunity to have a really big start for in Philadelphia that year,” McDowell said. “So he was able to come up and give us a little bit of a boost and give us a little bit of a foresight as to what type of year he was going to have (in 2011).
“There were a lot a lot of positive things happening last year, but there’s going to be times where there’s a learning curve, and there’s going to be times, when as a young pitcher, sometimes it’s a learning process.”
Beachy is working to correct the mistakes he made last year. He said he often nitpicked when ahead in the count, leading to walks. Still, he had only 46, but he also gave up 16 home runs, second on the team to Tommy Hanson’s 17.
“For the most part, I did a pretty good job of (not walking batters), but I hate walking anybody, giving anybody a free pass,” Beachy said. “It really aggravates me because that’s something I can control. That’s on me, not on anybody else. It’s on me, and walks don’t help you win, and I feel like I’m setting myself up for bad things to happen every time I put a guy on base freely like that.”
Part of Beachy’s offseason workouts have focused on regaining control of his curveball. He struggled with its command last season and began relying on his slider, with success.
Fangraphs.com reported that his slider was Beachy’s second-most valuable of his four pitches, behind his fastball, and was particularly effective against right-handers, who hit it into the ground 52.1 percent of the time.
“Yeah, I threw a lot of sliders because I quit being as effective with my curveball,” Beachy said. “I couldn’t throw if for a strike, and what guys used to chase out of the zone, they weren’t chasing because I didn’t prove I could throw it in the zone, so it became less effective. I had to throw more sliders to counteract that.
“If I can control that, then my slider becomes that much better.”
Now, Beachy enters his second full season with the confidence of an established, experienced starter.
“I’ve been around. I’ve been through the circuit and I learned a lot, and I anticipate learning a lot more each year,” Beachy said. “Hopefully, I can take some of the things I learned last year and build upon them.”