Wilmington's Brickhouse finally healthy ... and now dominant

He endured quite the journey to get there.

Matt Leon
May 31, 2018 - 12:29 pm
Bryan Brickhouse

Wilmington Blue Rocks

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WILMINGTON, Del (KYW Newsradio) -- Fans of the Wilmington Blue Rocks feel pretty good this season when the Royals Single-A team has a lead late in the game. That's because Wilmington has one of the best closers in the Carolina League in Bryan Brickhouse.

The right-hander is 1-0 with 8 saves and a 2.12 ERA in 15 appearances. In 17 innings he has allowed just three hits while striking out 24 with 16 walks. 

This success is especially sweet for Brickhouse because he had to endure quite the journey to get here.

Brickhouse was drafted by Kansas City in the third round out of high school down in Texas. He actually started his professional career as a starting pitcher and spent his first couple of seasons climbing the organizational ladder. But then things went off track.

"The injuries started back in 2013," Brickhouse said. "I was in Low-A and had Tommy John (surgery), I think June of 2013. Didn't really have problems with any of that. It was actually when I was throwing my rehab innings after, I got about 25 innings in, I got the stress fracture (in the elbow), I think it was August of 2014. That's the thing that really kept me out, was the stress fracture. It just wouldn't really heal."

Brickhouse says he spent 2015 rehabbing. He made a handful appearances in rookie ball, but then he had a screw put in his elbow. He says that screw proved ineffective and eventually had to be removed and replaced by two new screws. He didn't appear in any games in 2016 and by spring training in 2017, he struggled to get through bullpen sessions. That led to him making the difficult decision to retire at the age of 24.

"I went and got my real estate license," he said.

While his day-to-day life shifted from fastballs and pick-off moves to home inspections and paperwork, baseball was still on his mind.

"I was still staying in shape and trying to possibly keep that door open to come back if everything was feeling good and if I still had that desire, which I did," he says. "It was always really still there and I think that desire built up over the course of the months that I was at home just really wanting to get back and play."

So Brickhouse decided to really start working to get back on the mound.

"I didn't even really know if I'd get another shot," he says, "with my injury history and missing so much time ... but I knew I had to make some drastic changes to even have an opportunity. So I wound up losing 30, 35 pounds, started doing yoga, which I really enjoyed. ... I felt like just putting on upper body muscle and strength would be huge. ... I ended up doing some upper body lifts and I feel like that helped my elbow actually heal and get stronger, because over the course of the next couple of weeks, it would feel better and better as I was working out."

Brickhouse says he started throwing again in September of 2017 with no pain. A couple of months later, he reached out to the Royals to see if he could get back in the game and now he is dominating for Wilmington — and actually throwing a bit harder.

"I am," he says. "I'm throwing more of a four-seam now, not so much of a two-seam. I would get inside the baseball pretty bad before when I was injured a lot. I'd get a lot more sinking action on my fastball. That was anywhere from 94 to 96, now staying on top of the baseball with a more traditional four-seam I'm anywhere from 94 to 98."

Now remember, earlier in his career Brickhouse was a starter, now he's a closer. He talks about making the adjustment to life in the bullpen.

"I've always been a pretty intense guy when it comes to pitching and it normally takes me a couple hitters to settle in," he says. "You don't have a couple hitters in the bullpen, you have to be locked in from pitch one. As a starter, if I got through the first inning I felt like I could settle in and get in a groove. There's a lot of differences between starting and being in the bullpen, but I hadn't started really in so long that I almost kind of forgot the starter routine to where now bullpen's almost all I know."

Brickhouse will turn 26 next week. He talks about how this ride has changed him.

"It's definitely humbled me," he says. "It gave me a ton of perspective as far as the opportunity that I have in front of me to try and pitch in the big leagues, which is something I've wanted to do."

Brickhouse and the Blue Rocks will host Frederick on Thursday night.

Follow Matt on Twitter @Mattleon1060.