MLB & Atlanta Braves

Ex-Mercer pitcher rising in Braves’ organization

Cory Gearrin has come a long way since his professional baseball debut.

That was last summer, on June 27 in Elizabethton, Tenn. Fresh off a superb junior season at Mercer, Gearrin was drafted in the fourth round by the Atlanta Braves, who sent him to their Single-A team in Danville, Va.

It was not a good first day at work.

“I started off the year pretty tough, about the worst I could have expected,” Gearrin said. “I didn’t even get an out.”

He faced three batters, walking one and giving up two hits to go with two wild pitches for the loss. He pitched the next night, did get somebody out and had a 36.00 ERA and three wild pitches to his credit after two games.

Gearrin chalked it up to his first learning experience as a pro pitcher, and he has been a good student ever since.

“I feel like I was better for it,” Gearrin said. “I had to go through a lot of stuff that I feel like a lot of first-year players deal with in minor league ball as far as the mental aspect of it, going through it day in, day out, trying not to overdo it as far as making adjustments and things like that.”

Indeed, he has found a groove and is now at Myrtle Beach, the Braves’ advanced Single-A team in the Carolina League. It is a pleasant pace of progress for a pitcher who remained in extended spring training back in April, a player without a team for which to play.

“It was kind of a shocker to be kept back like that,” said Gearrin, who rebounded from that dreadful start to finish 1-1 with a 4.44 ERA in 18 games at Danville. “I didn’t expect it.

“I realized it’s really time to bear down because by coming out of college, you only have so long to move through the organization. I don’t think you can really get bummed down. If that’s how you face difficulties and adversity in the game, it’s going to wear you out.”

Gearrin listened to what pitching coaches and managers told him and worked on location and speeding up how long it took him to get the pitch to the plate. The side-armed pitcher survived a slow delivery at Mercer.

“In college, nobody ever really took advantage of it,” Gearrin said. “It’s just a matter of time. They see you’re slow, they’re going on the next pitch.”

Staying in extended spring training paid off fairly quickly. Gearrin was on the golf course with some teammates when the call came April 18 to report to Rome, which is only 45 minutes from his mother’s home in downtown Chattanooga.

Gearrin was 3-2 for Rome in 19 games with 36 strikeouts and 15 walks in 22 innings.

Injuries at Myrtle Beach opened an unexpected door for Gearrin. His roommate, pitcher Jaye Chapman, was moved to Myrtle Beach and Gearrin was in the process of taking care of getting Chapman’s gear back to Rome. Gearrin was on the bus after a game in Asheville checking out scores on his phone when his manager walked back to his seat.

Gearrin was worried he’d broken a rule by having his cell phone out, but Randy Ingle wasn’t going back there to scold Gearrin. Rather, the former Macon Braves manager had good news: Myrtle Beach wanted Gearrin.

His debut at Myrtle Beach was better than that first day last summer with four strikeouts in two innings for the win over Salisbury on July 9, a day after arriving.

Gearrin has had one bad outing in five games, giving up four runs in two-thirds of an inning against Winston-Salem for an ERA of 54.00. But he has been sharp in the other four performances with no earned runs, 11 strikeouts and one walk. Those are the numbers Atlanta hoped for when it drafted Gearrin in the fourth round last summer following an impressive season at Mercer.

“Right now, a young kid just has to get innings pitched,” Myrtle Beach manager Rocket Wheeler said. “You get on the mound, you get the experience. You have to experience the bases loaded with nobody out. You have to experience the ninth inning. You have to experience (runners on) second and third with one out with a lefty up and a righty on deck.”

Wheeler knew little about Gearrin, having seen one short performance in spring and still a limited amount at Myrtle Beach. But he does sees the potential.

“He’s tough on righties,” Wheeler said. “He’s got a deceptive delivery, and he’s got a pretty good slider.”

Gearrin is working on a changeup to go with the slider that baffled A-Sun hitters and a fastball, knowing that a pitcher can’t survive in the pros on the same repertoire that worked in high school and college.

Plus, Gearrin is part of an organization known for pitching. Three of Atlanta’s four full-summer minor league pitching staffs — Danville, Myrtle Beach and Mississippi — rank high in their leagues in ERA, saves and shutouts.

“There are plenty of guys, I’ve come to find out, who can throw anywhere from 90 to 95 (mph) in our organization and everywhere,” Gearrin said. “It’s the guys who hit their spots that really have success, that know how to pitch. Growing up, you always see the radar gun and you’re like, ‘Wow, that guy hit 95, that guy hit 96.’

“It’s still impressive, but the guys I find myself now saying, ‘Wow, that guy’s unbelievable’ are the Greg Madduxes, the Tom Glavines, the guys that aren’t overpowering with velocity, but they know what they’re doing on the mound. That’s what I’m working on.”