It’s been so long since Marlins reliever Kyle Barraclough surrendered a hit that the last batter to do it, Adrian Gonzalez, is now out of baseball, released by the Mets weeks ago.
Gonzalez doubled off Barraclough on May 22.
Barraclough hasn’t allowed a hit since, going the entire month of June and 11 2/3 consecutive innings without allowing so much as a bloop single.
The hitless stretch is one of the longest by a reliever in Marlins history, putting him within range of Armando Benitez’s club mark of 14 1/3 hitless frames in 2004.
“He’s on my All-Star ballot, that’s how good he’s been,” said Marlins bullpen coach Dean Treanor.
Treanor deserves some of the credit for Barraclough’s success.
After the Marlins acquired him in a 2015 trade with the Cardinals for Steve Cishek, Barraclough was a strikeout artist, getting batters to to chase a steady diet of low-and-away sliders and piling up the K’s in the process.
He whiffed an average of 14 batters per nine innings in 2016, one of the highest strikeout rates in the majors. Over time, though, opposing hitters began to catch on to Barraclough’s tactics and started laying off the pitch, taking it for a ball and forcing the pitcher to work while behind in the count.
“Once I noticed the league making adjustments, where it’s like they know I throw sliders a lot, they weren’t going up there swinging at sliders down below the zone or off the plate,” Barraclough said. “They didn’t want to get beat by sliders.”
Barraclough’s pitch count increased while his strikeout rate declined.
Enter Treanor, who convinced Barraclough his stuff — and in particular, his fastball — was good enough to beat hitters with pitches thrown in the strike zone.
Contact, Treanor convinced Barraclough, was okay.
“He said it’s not the worst thing to get a two-pitch groundout versus a five-pitch strikeout, unless the situation calls for it,” Barraclough recalled. “He brought it up and showed me some numbers that kind of opened my eyes to it.”
Said Treanor: “It was a matter of just attacking hitters and attacking the strike zone. It was just letting him know that ‘your (stuff) is good. Throw it over the plate and you’re going to have success.’ The results speak for themselves.”
Barraclough worked as a late-inning setup reliever the early part of the season before taking over the closer’s role from Brad Ziegler at the end of May. He has been close to flawless in the ninth inning, successfully converting all six of his save opportunities and doing it to near perfection.
In 10 relief appearances totaling exactly 10 innings this month, Barraclough has faced a total of 30 batters — the fewest possible — and retired all but one, that coming on a walk. That lone runner was erased on a double play grounder. He's still getting his strikeouts, just not as many as before, averaging nine whiffs per nine innings.
For the season, Barraclough has given up just nine hits in 34 1/3 innings, an astonishingly low rate of 2.4 hits allowed per nine innings. If he continues at that rate, it would be a major league single-season record by a pitcher throwing at least 60 innings. The current record of 3.88 hits allowed per nine innings was set by the Braves’ Craig Kimbrel in 2012.
Barraclough is pleased with the results.
“You go from throwing 25 pitches an inning to 15 pitches an inning,” Barraclough said of his new approach. “That should help in terms of my longevity and how I’m feeling later in the season, too.”
Said Treanor: “He’s seeing the results and there’s a confidence factor that comes with that.”