As sneak previews go, it was titillating.
On May 22, Rockies left-hander Rex Brothers was summoned to the mound to finish off the Rockies' 4-1 victory over the Diamondbacks. Rafael Betancourt, the Rockies' closer, was sidelined by a strained groin, leaving Brothers under the glare of one of the harshest spotlights in sports.
Brothers gave up a one-out single to Wil Nieves, but then threw a nasty slider to force a double-play grounder from Josh Wilson to earn his first save this season, only the second of his big-league career.
It was a coming attraction that should leave Rockies fans begging for more. It wasn't simply that Brothers got the job done, but the way he went about his business.
"All I was thinking was, 'Get three outs and let's move on to San Francisco,' " Brothers said. "I tried to make sure I treated it like any other inning I've pitched. After they got that hit, I was immediately thinking, 'Where's my double-play pitch?' I wasn't thinking about strikeouts or pressure. I just wanted to get the job done."
Betancourt, 38, remains the Rockies' ninth-inning guy. But he's going on the disabled list Sunday, according to a major-league source, giving the 25-year-old Brothers a chance to prove he has the right stuff to be the club's future closer.
With a 97 mph fastball, a slider that can make major-league hitters go weak in the knees, and newfound maturity in this his third big-league season, Brothers is posting astonishing numbers. His 0.36 ERA is the lowest in the majors among relievers with at least 20 appearances. He has pitched 23 consecutive scoreless outings, spanning 21 innings.
It takes far more than gaudy statistics for a reliever to profile as a closer, but Rockies pitching coach Jim Wright said Brothers has the necessary intangibles.
"He definitely has the stuff. The rest of it is from the neck up, the emotional and mental toughness it takes," Wright said.
"Rex has got the personality type, to be able to have a short-term memory and to bounce right back. At some point in the future he's got the potential to be that guy. I think he can be a closer, I really do."
The Rockies selected Brothers as a supplemental first-round draft pick in 2009 out of Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn. He shot through the farm system, arriving at Coors Field in 2011. He made 48 appearances and posted respectable numbers (1-2, 2.88 ERA, 59 strikeouts in 40 innings). But he struggled early last season. He was 2-2 with a 5.87 ERA when the Rockies sent him down to Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Rockies coaches had preached there was lot more to the art of pitching than blowing the ball by the batter, but it wasn't sinking in. Until he got sent down for a four-game tuneup.