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Brazelton gets opening assignment
The Rays pitcher had a tough road to becoming a No. 1 starter.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published March 17, 2005
[Times photo: James Borchuck]
Dewon Brazelton says he knows he has to step it up to justify the decision to make him the opening-day starter.
ST. PETERSBURG - There was no way Devil Rays right-hander Dewon Brazelton was going to let the moment pass without thanking his mother. There was no way Monalisa Brazelton was going to let her son forget he had a job to do.
Dewon found out before pitching in Wednesday's game against the Tigers at Progress Energy Park that he is Tampa Bay's opening-day starter.
Dewon told Monalisa, who for only the third time would watch her son pitch for Tampa Bay.
"I thanked her for signing me up for that first T-ball game," Dewon said. "She could have signed me up for something else like soccer."
"I told him just concentrate on the game," Monalisa said. "I didn't want him thinking about the privilege he will be having."
How could Dewon not think about it?
Just two years ago he was demoted from the Rays to Class A Bakersfield, a situation he said made him "hungry to be a ballplayer."
He worked out at a Phoenix training center last offseason and said he vowed to himself, "I'm going to be a No. 1 starter."
And now he was able to celebrate with his mom.
Monalisa was two weeks out of high school when she had Dewon and twin brother Fewon. She raised them as a single mother in Tullahoma, Tenn., and worked two jobs.
Monalisa also battled and overcame a drug problem that at times kept her away from her family and forced Dewon to take care of his brother, who had cerebral palsy and died in December 2002. The boys also lived with other families.
Monalisa said she recently lost her job in Tennessee because the factory where she worked is moving to Mexico, so she may stay longer with Dewon.
"An overwhelming feeling," she said of her son's opening-day gig April 4 at Tropicana Field against the Blue Jays. "A wonderful feeling. I love to watch him pitch."
Manager Lou Piniella said he has no problems with either Mark Hendrickson or Scott Kazmir, left-handers who are Tampa Bay's only other confirmed starters.
Piniella said Brazelton got the nod because the opening-day starter will pitch three times in Tampa Bay's opening nine-game homestand. Brazelton is 7-4 at the Trop, 6-3 last season, and 0-11 on the road. He also was 2-0 last season against Toronto.
"Looking at the success Brazelton has had at home, I think it's the right choice," Piniella said.
Brazelton, 24, said he has no doubt his road record will improve.
"Anybody can see I'm a different pitcher than I was last year," he said.
But first things first, such as dealing with the adrenaline rush of Wednesday's pregame news.
"I felt I had to go out there and dazzle them and strike out 18 guys," he said of his four innings against Detroit. "I had to get out of the mode of trying to strike everybody out to doing what I need to do."
Brazelton allowed two runs on five hits with two walks and a strikeout. He threw well and spent his last inning and an extra bullpen session working on his changeup.
"I'm honored to be the opening-day starter, but it lets me know I have to step it up more to stay at that level," he said. "This is just the beginning."
"I told him I want to see some work, and he assured me he would," Piniella said. "That's all I wanted to hear."
Monalisa said she remembers Dewon as a baby wanting to play only with balls; rubber balls, tennis balls, Nerf balls.
"That's how he learned to crawl," she said. "We would throw the balls and since he didn't know how to crawl, he would pull himself to the ball."
Monalisa said when Dewon began playing baseball, she practiced with him as a catcher or third baseman.
"Twenty years later," Dewon said, "look at where it led to."