Andrew Knizner strained to find commonalities between Brian Brown and Carlos Rodon.
“They’re both left-handed pitchers?” Knizner, N.C. State’s sophomore catcher, asked.
There are few similarities between Brown, N.C. State’s newest ace pitcher with his predecessor, Rodon, by way of size or style. But Brown will get the ball on Thursday morning, in Rodon’s customary spot at the top of coach Elliott Avent’s rotation, in the Wolfpack’s opening game of the ACC tournament against Notre Dame.
They are about as different as pitchers can be but the results and effectiveness have been surprisingly similar for N.C. State (31-20).
“It doesn’t matter how hard you throw or how big you are, as long as you know how to pitch,” Brown said. “And I know how to pitch.”
Brown, an unheralded freshman from Glenmore, Pa., sure does. Brown (6-3) leads the Wolfpack with a 1.87 earned run average and has won his past three starts, including a 3-2 decision over top-seeded Louisville last Friday.
Brown, who’s listed as 6-foot and 170 pounds, hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs in his past eight starts and has done so only once in 10 ACC starts this season.
“What he has done for us is really amazing, coming in as a freshmen and pitching the way he has in this league,” Knizner said.
“And you wouldn’t even know it because he’s so humble and laid back. You can’t ask for much more from a baseball player. He’s the perfect baseball player.”
That Brown’s nearly the complete opposite of Rodon, the No. 3 overall pick in last year’s draft and already on a major-league roster, illustrates another difference between this year’s N.C. State team and last year’s.
Rodon, at 6-3 and 235 pounds, looks like he could moonlight at linebacker for the Chicago Bears. A power pitcher coveted by the pros out of high school in Holly Springs, Rodon throws his slider harder than Brown’s fastball.
Brown, with his slight build, could be confused for a walk-on on the golf team. There were 40 rounds and 1,215 picks in last June’s MLB draft, he wasn’t one of them.
His best pitch, a changeup, clocks about 72 miles per hour on the radar gun. His fastball has a home in the mid- to high-80s but “looks faster,” he proudly says, next to his wickedly deceptive changeup.
Brown sums up his pitching philosophy thusly: “Command first, then movement and velocity last, obviously.”
That might be the antithesis of Rodon’s approach but, senior shortstop Logan Ratledge said, there is a common trait between the two lefties.
“He has that same bulldog attitude Carlos did,” Ratledge said. “His stuff is different from Carlos’ but he does just as well with the stuff he has.”
Resiliency and character
Brown actually posted a better ERA (1.87 to 2.01 for Rodon) and a better WHIP (1.13 to 1.17) than Rodon did last season. Brown also has a held hitters to a lower average (.220 to .229).
More than his numbers, Avent’s impressed with Brown’s resiliency and character. In early September, Brown’s mother, Debra, passed away. Cancer claimed her life at 56.
After his mother’s death, Brown went back home in the Philadelphia suburb to be with his family. No one would have blamed him if he took the year off, Ratledge said, but his teammates also offered as much support as they could in a difficult situation.
“We just told him, ‘As tough as it is, we think you need to be with everybody,’ “ Ratledge said.
Brown needed his teammates and, it turns out, they needed him. Brown has found his stride, allowing only two earned runs in his last five starts – four of which ended with Wolfpack wins – just as the team has made a push for a return to the NCAA tournament.
Avent never dreamed he’d find another pitcher like Rodon, a once-in-a-generation talent. He’s ecstatic, though, that he’s got Brown.
“Pitching is about getting people out, doesn’t matter how you do it,” Avent said. “And that’s the name of his game.”
Different kind of ace
Unlike former N.C. State star pitcher Carlos Rodon, Brian Brown can’t crack 90 on a radar gun, but the freshman lefty has been similarly effective for the Wolfpack this season:
Brian Brown, fr.
Carlos Rodon, jr.