Truly something to talk about

The only buzz about Westminster pitcher Brett Harman these days concerns his talent and potential.

May 03, 2006|By RICH SCHERR | RICH SCHERR,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Westminster's Brett Harman remembers hearing the grumbling from older teammates: What business did a freshman have being on the varsity? He only made it because his dad was the coach.

Harman silenced those voices, however, by pitching a no-hitter in his first high school start.

Two years later, the lanky right-hander hears talk of a different nature. Now, most of it relates to what a seemingly bright future lies ahead for the 17-year-old junior, who's hoping to land a scholarship at a major Division I school.

And even though he hasn't thrown another no-hitter since pitching two his freshman year, last year's Carroll County Player of the Year believes he's come a long way on the mound.

"I had a lot of walks my freshman year, and that helped me pitch the no-hitters," he said. "When we'd face a good hitter, I'd kind of pitch around him more. Now, I kind of go after him. I trust my other pitches now."

And why not? Going into today's game at Century, he was 6-0 with a 1.12 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 31 1/3 innings for the 15-1 Owls, who have won 14 straight. He's also been one of the county's best at the plate, hitting .478 with four homers and 26 RBIs. That's enough to impress any coach - especially one who's also your father.

"I guess what a lot of people like about him is that you see this lanky kid, about 6-4 or 6-5 and 185 pounds, with just a tremendous amount of upside as far as upper body and leg strength," said Owls co-coach Bryan Harman, who has coached his son throughout high school, as well as in summer leagues when he was younger. "If he can pack on 15 or 20 pounds ... I think you're going to see him make even bigger strides."

Father and son have so far followed somewhat similar career paths, although the elder Harman admits that his son is already a more talented pitcher than he ever was.

Bryan Harman spent his high school days as a middle infielder at Westminster in the mid-1970s under coach Guy Stull, now his co-coach. When a college football career at James Madison didn't pan out, he transferred to Towson and focused on baseball - and pitching - under coach Billy Hunter, the longtime former Orioles coach.

"I'm able to pass down a lot of things to him, and he's been all ears," said Bryan Harman, who went on to play several seasons in an unlimited league.

Among the lessons has been the importance of creating movement on his pitches.

"What makes [Brett] really tough is that he drops down and comes at you from a lot of different angles," his father said. "He'll throw a side-arm fastball that will run in on a hitter, then he'll also drop down at that same angle and throw a little side-arm slider that will go completely away from a hitter."

What can't be taught is Brett Harman's natural physical ability. He tops out at about 86 mph on his fastball and is hoping to push that to 90 mph or above by adding some muscle over the summer.

So far this season, he's been the rock of an otherwise inexperienced pitching staff. In fact, prior to this spring, fellow pitchers Steve Krider, Alex Laslett, Chris Maienshein and Kevin Tehansky hadn't pitched so much as an inning at the varsity level.

Harman remembers when he was in a similar position. For him, however, proving himself as a player went hand in hand with deflecting criticism that he was receiving favoritism from his father.

"From Day One of the tryouts, I was just up there [on varsity] ... and there were people talking about it," he recalled.

"A lot of the seniors didn't think a freshman should be on the varsity," said Maienshein, then a sophomore. "But he quickly proved he was capable of performing at the varsity level. He was over 6-foot, he could kill the baseball, he threw in the 80s - there was no reason why he shouldn't have been on the varsity."

The no-hitter against Francis Scott Key was a turning point, giving him a dose of much-needed confidence and silencing the critics. After throwing yet another no-hitter in the playoffs, he truly came into his own last season, going 7-1 with a 0.67 ERA and leading the county in batting average (.465) and RBIs (23).

These days, his goal is efficiency. Instead of aiming for strikeouts, as he did earlier in his career, he now focuses on keeping his pitch count to a minimum, throwing more off-speed pitches and inducing opposing hitters to ground out.

"He's not going to leave a hanging curveball out there and he's not going to leave us out to dry," said Maienshein, also the team's shortstop. "He's going to pitch a good ballgame, and all we have to do is make plays for him."

Century coach Matt Michael, whose team recently managed just four hits against Harman in a 12-1 loss, said: "He does a nice job of getting ahead of hitters. Then he gets to throw his stuff."

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