Brothers aims to stay sharp amid fewer reps

Brothers aims to stay sharp amid fewer reps

WASHINGTON -- Being a Major League closer can be exciting, unless close games with tight leads are few and far between. Lately, the latter has forced Rockies left-hander Rex Brothers to be sharp.

Brothers became the closer when Rafael Betancourt's right groin issues affected him in late May. The injury forced Betancourt to the 15-day disabled list at the start of this month. Brothers is 3-for-4 in save opportunities in his last 11 games. But since throwing 25 pitches June 8 while finishing the Rockies' 4-2 loss to the Padres, Brothers has appeared in three games for a total of 19 pitches.

Nonetheless, Brothers still feels sharp. Going into Thursday night's game against the Nationals, Brothers had thrown 29 straight scoreless outings covering 26 2/3 innings.

"More than anything, it's taking more pride in the throwing program and the small side sessions, maybe five, eight pitches after the throwing program, to make sure I stay on top of the fundamentals, my cues," Brothers said. "All year, I've made a conscious effort to my throwing program and not letting myself form any bad habits."

Brothers said Betancourt and right-hander Matt Belisle taught him how to stay focused, even when the calls to the bullpen are not as frequent as at other times of the season.

Brothers has been a bright spot in a bullpen that has been stressed by the injuries of Betancourt and right-hander Edgmer Escalona (right elbow inflammation). Through May 21, when Betancourt was removed from a game against the D-backs after just two pitches, the Rockies were 25-21, and the bullpen was 6-6 with a 2.91 ERA. From then until Wednesday night, the Rockies were 12-15, and the bullpen was 5-8 with a 4.37 ERA.

But Betancourt hopes to return next Thursday or Friday. Betancourt will face hitters Friday afternoon at Nationals Park. Escalona, who is due back in five days, threw a smooth 25-pitch bullpen session Thursday.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.