PASCO, Wash. — There's a lot of different ways a pitcher can deliver a fastball.
Shane Broyles, a rookie right-hander for the Tri-City Dust Devils, loves every single one of them.
"You can use a fastball in so many different ways compared to a slider, which is only good in two locations," Broyles said. "You can throw a high fastball, an outside fastball, an inside fastball. I just like throwing fastballs."
Northwest League hitters haven't been as fond of Broyles' four-seam heater, which runs in the low 90s and has sent some of the best hitters in the league back to their dugouts, muttering to themselves.
"Sometimes, they'll scream or cuss after they strike out. It feels good if you throw a good pitch and they just watch it, like they weren't expecting it at all," the 6-foot-1 Burleson, Texas native said. "Whenever you get in a batter's head, that's one of the better feelings."
Broyles, a 14th-round draft pick by the Colorado Rockies out of Texas Tech University, has had a lot to feel good about this season. Nine weeks into his professional career, he's already one of the most promising starters in the Northwest League. He ranks eighth among NWL starters with a 3.00 ERA and is tied for eighth in the league with 54 strikeouts. Only teammate T.J. Oakes has fewer walks (6) among NWL pitchers with at least nine starts.
But it hasn't been easy. Nor did Broyles expect it to be.
"I've had some ups and downs. But when you come back after a rough outing, that makes it much better," he said, crediting Dust Devils' pitching coach Dave Burba for helping him keep a level head. "You're going to fail. Nobody's unbeatable, for sure. It's good to go through those things that put you back on earth."
After spending two seasons as a starter at Seminole State College in Florida, Broyles spent most of last college season in the Texas Tech bullpen, going 2-2 with a 4.42 ERA in 23 appearances.
When he was assigned to Tri-City right after signing with the Rockies, he was told he'd be back in the starting rotation, which turned out to be a good move for Broyles and for the Dust Devils.
"Early on, he put more pressure than he needed to on himself, trying to impress his teammates and prove he belonged," Burba said. "I think he's settled down and realized all he needs to do is pitch to his ability." After a pair of "piggyback" starts in late June, Broyles won his first three starts in July, capping the streak with a masterful, eight-inning effort in a 7-0 win at Everett. Broyles allowed just four hits and walked none against the first-half West Division champs. He also struck out Seattle Mariners' uber-prospect Mike Zunino twice.
On the strength of that effort, the NWL recognized him as its pitcher of the week.
"It was a great outing for him. We needed that from one of our starters, and he gave it to us," Dust Devils manager Fred Ocasio said. "He went right after hitters. That's one of the things he does very well. He's not afraid to pitch to contact."
Broyles will make his final home start of the season against the Eugene Emeralds at 7:15 p.m. today at Gesa Stadium in hopes of picking up his fifth victory. A win would tie him for sixth in the league.
"I want to have solid outings the rest of the year and go out on a positive note," Broyles said. "This will be my first offseason. I'm going to learn what to do.
"Going into spring training (next year), it's all going to be new to me. I don't really know what to expect. I just want to stay in shape and get to spring training 100 percent."