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Underhanded Tactic : Mission's Brown Changed Delivery, Now Frustrates Hitters With Guile


The gee-whiz grin is constant, letting everyone know he is glad to be here, glad to know you, glad all over.

He is standing on the mound at Mission College, the winningest junior college pitcher in the state.

How did he get there? "It was a lot like a miracle," he said.

There is the grin again, a great mass of teeth brightening the face of the unsinkable Josh Brown.

When he hit bottom as a high school junior, unable to get anybody out, Brown surfaced with a submarine delivery.

When it appeared his career would end in 1990 because of a shoulder injury incurred at the end of a stellar senior year at Birmingham High, the right-hander adapted again. A year of rest and months of physical therapy, and Brown was sound.

When his control faltered a year ago as a Mission freshman and he was slated for bullpen duty . . . well, a little luck never hurts in the making of a miracle. Two projected starting pitchers became academically ineligible.

"Josh took complete advantage of that situation," Coach John Klitsner said. "He stepped up and has become our ace."

As he had at Birmingham, Brown stepped up by dropping down. Throwing sidearm is an uncommon characteristic that has produced uncommon statistics.

Want impressive? Brown (9-2) leads the state in victories and in innings pitched (88 2/3).

Want unusual? Brown has walked only 11 batters. Mission catcher Joey Gandara said that Brown "began only 10 or 11 batters with balls all season," an obvious exaggeration that is his way of saying Brown has pitched more strikes than Hoffa.

Want really unusual? Brown has struck out only 26 batters. His season-high of five was a red-flag indication of trouble. Sure enough, the five Ks were followed by a KO; Cerro Coso knocked Brown around for 16 hits and nine runs in five innings last Tuesday and he absorbed his first loss. "If I throw too hard, the ball rises and I get hit hard," Brown said.

That direct correlation is accompanied by an inverse one: Mission's fortunes rise when Brown's pitches sink. Lately, however, the team has been falling fast.

Mission (21-12, 11-5 in the Southern California Athletic Conference) has lost five of its last six, and trails first-place East Los Angeles by 1 1/2 games. This week is crucial: The Free Spirit will play East L.A. today and Saturday before completing the conference schedule next week with two games against last-place Compton.

Mission has not won a conference title under Klitsner, who is in his fifth year. "We're playing for our lives now, playing for the conference championship," he said. "We've never done that before."

Brown is key to a turnaround. He followed the Cerro Coso outing with an equally disastrous performance Saturday, surrendering two home runs and seven runs in five innings of a 13-2 loss to L.A. City. It was one of the few times the grin turned into a frown.

Opponents Brown baffled earlier are adjusting the second time around: He had defeated Cerro Coso and L.A. City in March.

This time, L.A. City employed a somewhat underhanded tactic of its own, forcing someone other than a hitter to contend with Brown's sidearm tosses. Twice Brown made errant sidearm throws to first after fielding bunts, and the second error was followed by a home run.

The primary adjustment, however, has been that hitters are laying off marginal pitches early in the count and forcing Brown to bring the ball thigh high.

According to a major league scout who has seen Brown pitch, sidearm pitchers often must count on a batter being impatient and off-stride. In essence, the batter gets himself out, rather than being overmatched by a superior pitch.

"It's nibble, nibble, nibble on the corners, and that gets undisciplined hitters out, but unless he throws hard, the sidearm pitcher might lack a real out pitch against a patient hitter," the scout said.

Perhaps it is the unforgiving nature of Brown's stuff that has made offers from four-year colleges nearly nonexistent. "You see him at first and you're not gonna believe in him," Klitsner said. "But he rarely gets hit hard. He gets outs. I have no doubt he can help somebody the next two years."

Brown wants to continue pitching even if it means relocating to the outer reaches of the Midwest. The only school to recruit him is Upper Iowa, a Division III university in Fayette, and coaches there have used an unusual pitch of their own on Brown.

"They told Josh that he'd have a better chance of pitching and getting exposure from professional scouts if he left California," said Dan Brown, Josh's father.

The sidearm delivery can be career-limiting, according to Scott Muckey, the Crespi High coach who has successfully developed three sidearm pitchers over the past five years.

"You are not going to take it into pro ball unless you have velocity," he said. "And right-handed side-armers have trouble with left-handed hitters. Usually you teach a guy to drop down who isn't going any further if he stays up top."

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