Merrimack sophomore pitcher PJ Browne worked on his velocity, and it has resulted in an improved strikeout rate this spring …
NORTH ANDOVER — PJ Browne made an impact on the Merrimack baseball team as soon as he set foot on the diamond last spring. In his freshman season, Browne was named Northeast-10 All-Rookie after leading the Warriors with five wins and posting a 3.27 earned-run average.
Browne has carried that strong rookie campaign into his sophomore year, and he has been a big key for the Warriors, who are 11-8 through 19 games.
“We have been sticking to the process,” said Browne. “I think there is really good team chemistry. That has really improved. It’s only my second year, but the chemistry has really improved. We’ve been doing the little things right.”
Browne is 3-2 in his five starts this season with a 2.94 ERA. Browne’s 33.2 innings pitched is most on the team and he’s holding opponents to a .222 batting average against.
Most impressively, though, is Browne’s strikeout rate. He has struck out exactly one third of the batters he has faced this season (42 of 126). Browne is only seven strikeouts shy of his total from all of last season, when he punched out 49 batters in 55.0 innings. His strikeout-per-nine-inning rate has increased from 8.02 to 11.23.
The 5-foot-11 left-hander says that a big reason for that increase is due to working on his velocity in the offseason.
“For me, I think a big part was just getting stronger,” Browne said. “I have been trying to figure out how to increase velocity and I worked on tuning up my mechanics. The biggest thing for me is velocity. I have always had good command and I can throw four pitches for strikes, so a big focus for me was getting stronger and working harder in the weight room to develop that swing-and-miss fastball, which is what I have been looking for.”
Last week, Browne was named the Northeast-10 Pitcher of the Week, while garnering the same award from the NCBWA and the NEIBA after a seven-inning, 14-strikeout performance against Queens College. The 14 strikeouts for Browne in that game were a career high and the most for a Merrimack pitcher since 2014.
This past Saturday, Browne allowed only one earned-run through 8.1 innings but the Warriors fell to St. Anselm, 2-1,
Confidence has helped as well, and Browne has pitched particularly well on the road, where he has 18 strikeouts in 9.1 innings in two starts.
“My confidence has gone up,” said Browne. “I think my preparation and work ethic in the weight room has also improved. I try not to take any reps off. We’re all working to be the best.”
Another thing that has helped this spring has been the ability for the Warriors to get outside in the preseason. Last year at this time, snow still coated the fields and the team didn’t play its first game on its home diamond until April 12.
Practicing indoors limits just about everyone. For pitchers, arm strength is hard to develop without the opportunity for long tosses to stretch it out.
“Last year was tough,” Browne said. “I know for me personally, it was my first year and we just couldn’t get outside. That’s really important. You can’t lengthen your arms with long toss. Getting outside is really important and a big factor in arm strength, which helps you get deep into games and with the bullpen, getting some extra innings there. It’s tough to stretch out your arm when you’re inside. There’s just not enough room.”
Browne attended St. John’s Shrewsbury, the same high school as former Merrimack pitcher Ryan O’Rourke, who is now with the Minnesota Twins. Merrimack junior Ryan Petrone is also from the same area in Western Mass., and they have had a chance to interact with O’Rourke a few times in the offseason.
“Ryan goes to the same place to workout as we do,” Browne said. “It’s been really cool, I’ve met him a few times and we’ve talked some pitching stuff.
“It’s kind of humbling to see the guys who have come through this program and then have success in pro baseball. Joe Mantoni is doing really well, and now Ryan is in the Majors. It’s really humbling. That’s a dream, but I’m just focused on getting better and winning games here.”
Winning games is the simple goal for the Warriors this season.
“The goal is really simple,” Browne said. ‘We want to make a regional, we want to be in that tournament. It’s going to really get going here soon with five or six games per week, so we’re going to have to support each other and make sure that we’re all doing our jobs.”