A's MLN: Dallas Braden Continues To Surprise

In this edition of the <I>Minor League Notebook</I>, we take a closer look at 24th round pick Dallas Braden and his surprising level of success against minor league hitters. The left-handed screwball specialist has been racking up strikeouts at a prodigious rate this season and his latest effort helped the Stockton Ports even their record at 6-6.

Dallas Braden was considered a project pick when he was taken in the 24th round of the 2004 draft out of Texas Tech. The Stockton native opened a lot of eyes when he posted a 4-1 record with a 3.89 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 40 innings pitched for Vancouver and Kane County last season. Scouts credited Braden's increase in velocity from the low-80s to the mid to high-80s as part of the reason that Braden had so much more success early on then was expected. The increased velocity to go along with his wicked screwball has made Braden one of the most difficult pitchers to make contact against in the lower minor leagues.

Many scouts have pegged Braden as a reliever long-term because he doesn't have over-whelming velocity. However, Braden has been outstanding in the rotation for the Stockton Ports so far this season. In three starts for his hometown team, Braden is 2-0 with a 2.87 ERA and 21 strikeouts against only four walks in 15.2 innings pitched. In Braden's Wednesday evening start, the left-handed starter struck out nine in 5.1 innings pitched to earn the win in Stockton's 6-3 victory over the Visalia Oaks. Starting with two outs in the third inning, Braden struck out five batters in a row. In fact, Braden's stuff was so good, even catcher Jed Morris had trouble catching it, as Braden had three wild pitches on the night.

Visalia did all of its scoring in the second inning, getting three runs in the frame. Morris, who had an excellent day at the plate, ended the Oaks' inning by throwing out a runner at second on a stolen base attempt. Morris was a big factor in the Ports' offensive attack. Down 3-1 in the top of the third, the Ports scored four runs to take the 5-3 lead, with Morris' two-run homerun being the biggest blow of the inning. Morris' fifth inning double would eventually lead to the Ports final run of the evening.

Vasili Spanos continued his resurrection from an early season deep freeze at the plate with a 2-3 night, including a double. Spanos also drew a walk. The rangy first baseman has now raised his batting average to .312 after hitting .087 through the first week of the season. Daric Barton also chipped in two hits to raise his average to .283. Barton's big night came a day after he was the only Ports' starter not to have a hit in their 15-11 loss on Tuesday. In that loss, the Ports scored 10 runs in the first frame but wound up on the losing end when Visalia scored 11 runs in the sixth.

Richie Robnett only had one hit in the game, but he threw a runner out at home with a strike from centerfield. The Stockton bullpen (Alex Santos, Jared Burton and Jeff Muessig) combined to throw 3.2 scoreless innings to preserve the win for Braden. Muessig collected his fourth save of the season. In total, the Ports' pitching staff struck out 13 Oaks on the night.

Other Notes:

- The Midland bullpen continues to be lights-out. The Rockhounds' bullpen combined to throw five shutout innings in Midland's 4-3, 11 inning win over Corpus Christi. After Rockhounds' starter Matt Lynch went six innings, the Midland relief corp allowed only three hits and two walks over the next five innings to keep the Rockhounds in a position to pull off the extra-inning win. Jairo Garcia had his second straight strong outing out of the bullpen, striking out two and allowing only one hit in 1.1 innings of work. Garcia has a 1.17 ERA on the season and he appears to be getting closer to regaining the form he displayed before being recalled to Oakland in August of last season. The Midland bullpen has now thrown 52 innings and has allowed only nine runs for a 1.56 ERA. Omar Quintanilla scored the winning run on a base-hit by Steve Stanley in the top of the 11th. Stanley had four hits on the night to raise his average to .250. Stanley, who hit over .400 during his late-season stint in Midland last season, had been struggling to start the season but has raised his average nearly 100 points over the last few days.

- Sacramento closer Chris Mabeus' early season struggles continued on Wednesday night, as he blew his second save of the season in the River Cats' 7-6 loss. Mabeus entered the game with one on and two outs in the bottom of the 8th with the River Cats clinging to a 6-4 lead. However, he allowed two hits and three straight walks (including two with the bases loaded) to cough up the River Cats' lead. Mabeus now has a 9.46 ERA. Jermaine Clark led-off the game with a homerun and drove in another run with a single. Shawn Garrett went 3-5 to raise his average to .352 and Dan Johnson added two hits, including a double.

- Starter Derek Tharpe was brilliant, but the Cougars' ice cold offense failed to score and Kane County fell, 2-0, to Quad Cities. Tharpe allowed only two hits and one run over six innings, but it wasn't enough on Wednesday night, as the Cougars managed only eight hits and no runs against the Quad Cities pitching staff.

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