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Portal's Brown gets All-Star bid, promotion

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    Brooks Brown’s 22nd birthday is shaping up quite nicely.
    The former Portal High School star pitcher will play in tonight’s California League All-Star game, the culmination of a stellar first half of the season for the Visalia (Calif.) Oaks. Brown emerged as the ace for the Arizona Diamondback’s Advanced Class A team, going 6-3 with a 2.81 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 80 innings.
    The Diamondbacks took notice, promoting the right hander to their Double-A squad, the Mobile (Ala.) BayBears. He’ll report there Wednesday, his birthday.
    “I’m just getting my feet wet as far as my first full season of pro ball,” said Brown, a 2003 Portal graduate and the 34th overall pick in last year’s Major League Baseball Draft. He pitched at the University of Georgia for three seasons, helping the Bulldogs to the College World Series as a freshman and junior.
    After the Bulldogs’ season ended last June, Brown spent the remainder of the summer with the Diamondbacks’ short-season team, the Yakima Bears in Washington. Having already thrown a full college season, Brown was monitored closely and his outings were limited to two innings. A long year of baseball ended after he spent about a month in the Instructional League last fall in Arizona.
    Brown then headed to spring training this year trying to earn a spot on Visalia’s roster. Making the All-Star team wasn’t a feat he deliberately tried to accomplish.
    “I just want to go out and try to get better each start, and it worked out I’ve thrown well enough by the break to make the All-Star team,” he said. “It’s an honor but not something I set out for at the beginning of the year. I’m glad I was healthy enough to make all my starts.”
    Brown has established himself as a groundball pitcher as his coaches have stressed the importance of keeping the ball out of the air, particularly in the hitter-friendly California League. His transition has been smooth, and Brown didn’t surrender a home run in his first 12 starts this year, a span of more than 250 consecutive at-bats. Opponents are batting a mere .224 against him while right-handers are hitting a lowly .191.
    “My main focus has been throwing pitches at the bottom of the strike zone, forcing contact and trying to get a bunch of groundballs,” Brown said.
    He’s abandoned the four-seam fastball he threw in college, and the Diamondbacks are encouraging him to develop his sinkerball. Brown says he’s learning to throw all three of his pitches (sinker, slider, change-up) more, instead of relying on just one.
    With his promotion to Mobile of the Southern League, Brown will be much closer to home, but he’s still adjusting minor league baseball’s lengthy 141-game season.
    “You’ve just got to take initiative with your job and try your best to stay healthy and in shape because this is a long season,” Brown said.

    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.
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