Bray Striving For Big League Debut

New Orleans Zephyrs manager Tim Foli believes there are a handful of guys on his Triple-A team that are close to a big league call-up. One of the recent additions to the Washington Nationals' pitching staff is 25-year-old left-hander Mike O'Connor.

Could the next be 2004 first-round draft pick Bill Bray?

"We have about five players that I think could make the move up," said Foli, the second-year Zephyrs manager. "It all depends on when the right situation presents itself."

If you're looking to boost some of the Zephyrs players' morale, the situation couldn't come at a better time. The team had 11 straight losses after getting off to a 7-1 start. They now find themselves in third place with an 11-16 record, some 7.5 games behind the Pacific Coast League's hottest team, Albuquerque.

Bray has also fallen on some hard times periodically this season. He appeared in 23 games with New Orleans last season and had a rough go of things with a 5.06 ERA in 21 1/3 innings. This year, he got off to a promising enough start with three victories, all in his first three appearances in relief, in spite of the fact that he surrendered three runs in 5 2/3 innings in that span.

Almost a month later, Bray now finds himself with 19 strikeouts to five walks, but a 4.91 ERA. He hasn't had any one particular "blow-up" outing, but he has scattered a run in six of his 11 outings this season.

"It's been an up-and-down season to this point," admitted Bray. "I've put together some good outings, but also some outings where I thought I made too many mistakes. You have to work on correcting those mistakes."

In order to do that, Bray says he has to alleviate the pressures of the Pacific Coast League – heavy hitters, frequent ballparks that cater to those hitters, and a parent club that will most likely make a steady dip into their farm system at some point this season.

"There's always pressure, but you do your best not to think about it," Bray says. "You do the best you can and work on what you need to work on. Hopefully things will take care of themselves."

One of the more unique things about Bray is that he spent essentially no time at all in Double-A, or Class-A for that matter. When he was drafted in '04, he went straight to Class High-A Brevard County, then the Expos' Florida State League affiliate.

A year later, he spent less than a month back in High-A for the Nationals' new affiliate in the Carolina League, and appeared in just three games for the AA-Harrisburg Senators.

Now pitching at Triple-A with little time at either the preceding two levels, does Bray sometimes feel overpowered?

"The biggest thing is the hitters, you know," Bray offered. "It's a step above and you're right there on the cusp of the big leagues. These guys here are the best the minor leagues have to offer."

Keeping one eye glued to the Los Angeles Lakers-Phoenix Suns NBA playoff game on the mini-screen TV in his office, Foli touched briefly on what impressed him the most about Bray.

"The kid has shown us a great arm, and he's not afraid of contact," said Foli. "He keeps battling. He's getting better and better as he progresses. He's learning about his slider and where he can throw."

"He's still young, but he's progressing nicely," reminded Foli.


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