Currently hanging from the wall in the Tacoma Rainiers’ clubhouse is a series of celebration photos after the team clinched a Pacific Coast League Pacific Northern championship Thursday night.
The most prominent image is of veteran catcher Rob Brantly, who is shirtless with ski goggles on trying to do the shuffle dance.
“I like to have fun,” the 27-year-old San Diego native said.
Brantly is a free spirit — one of the truly unique characters in the Rainiers dugout.
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He has also been a bit of a free-swinger, which hasn’t exactly fit in with the organization’s new patient and methodical approach to hitting.
“You ask a guy to see more pitches, and swing at fewer bad pitches at this point of his career — it is tough,” Rainiers manager Pat Listach said.
Brantly has played for two teams in the big leagues — the Miami Marlins (2012-13) and the Chicago White Sox (2015).
Late in spring training, the White Sox put Brantly on waivers. The Mariners immediately scooped him up to challenge Steve Clevenger for the back-up catching role behind Chris Iannetta.
Clevenger won the job, leaving Brantly a free agent again. But he decided to report to Triple-A Tacoma with the Rainiers.
In late June, Brantly’s batting average through his first 37 games sat at .222. He also had taken just two walks.
That prompted a sit-down meeting with Listach, Rainiers hitting coach Scott Brosius and Mariners assistant general manager Jeff Kingston to discuss Brantly’s future.
The point was simple: Change your approach at the plate and look at a few more pitches in each at-bat.
“That day in the game, he was trying to make the changes to what we wanted,” Listach said.
Since July 1, Brantly has walked six times, including one in three consecutive games (July 17-19). At one point, his on-base percentage rose nearly 50 points.
And he has hit eight of his career-high 14 home runs in the past two months, including one in the regular season finale Monday in Tacoma’s 5-3 win over Reno.
“It was an adjustment at first,” Brantly said. “I had to sacrifice some at-bats … trying to learn this new process and shrink my (strike) zone. The more time that passed on, I quickly started picking up on it. I can really focus on one pitch, and react from there.”
Case in point: The ninth inning Sunday of the Rainiers’ 8-7 comeback victory over Reno.
With two runners on, and two outs, Aces closer Jimmy Sherfy started Brantly off with a breaking ball that started out in the strike zone.
“I could have swung at the first pitch,” Brantly said. “But we want to get that heater in the zone, and I was patient and I got one.”
He did, hammering a fastball in the right-center gap for the game-winning, two-run double.
“To be honest, in the second half, he has been one of our better players offensively,” Listach said. “I like having his bat in the lineup.”
Even though another trip to the big leagues has not worked out for Brantly this season, he admits it’s been a productive — and enjoyable — year.
“I’ve had a blast this season,” Brantly said.
Dan Vogelbach hit a go-ahead grand slam in the fifth inning, and the Rainiers ended the regular season with a 5-3 victory Monday over Reno at Cheney Stadium.
Vogelbach, who missed the past two games because of the flu, hammered a 2-2 fastball from Reno starter Billy Buckner off the scoreboard in right-center field to clear the bases, giving the Rainiers a 5-2 lead.
Joe Wieland (14-6) finished as the team’s first 14-game winner since Denny Stark (14-2) in 2001.
It was the Rainiers’ 81st win of the season — most since the team went 85-59 in 2001. Their 46 home wins are the most since 2005 (48-24).
Listach announced his playoff rotation for the upcoming best-of-five series against El Paso, with right-hander Jarrett Grube getting the nod in the first game Wednesday.
After Grube, it will be, in order, Cody Martin (Thursday), Wade Le Blanc (Friday home opener), Joe Wieland (Saturday, if necessary) and Sam Gaviglio (Sunday, if necessary).
With a first-inning walk, Vogelbach extended his on-base streak to 30 games, tying Chris Taylor for the longest since 2009. … Listach has had a furry visitor around the clubhouse this week — Daisy, his Yorkie dog. Listach’s wife, Carolyn, dropped the dog off so she could go alligator-hunting this weekend.
The PCL playoffs begin Wednesday in El Paso, with Grube (1-4, 3.62 ERA) facing off against Chihuahuas left-hander Frank Garces (6-8, 4.41). First pitch is 5:35 p.m. (PDT), and all the action can be heard on 850-AM.