Aside from his strikeout of fellow Las Vegas native Bryce Harper, Brewers relief pitcher Brandon Kintzler said he wasn’t focused during Milwaukee’s July 4 loss to Washington during which he gave up a decisive three-run homer to Wilson Ramos.
Kintzler, a Palo Verde High School graduate, hasn’t allowed a run since then in a string of 16 straight appearances — scattering nine hits in 18 2/3 innings with 11 strikeouts and one walk.
“Mentally, I wasn’t there (July 4), but that day I told myself they’re going to have to beat me at my best. It was kind of the turning point in my season,” the 29-year-old Kintzler said. “The only time I was there that day was when I faced Harper. I’m tired of the other Vegas kids getting all the publicity.”
One of the Brewers’ few bright spots this season, Kintzler is 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA and a team-best 0.91 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) in 50 appearances.
The 5-foot-10-inch right-hander has limited left-handed hitters to a .141 batting average and held batters to a .198 average overall.
“He’s another guy that throws strikes,” Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke said. “He has tremendous movement and velocity with his fastball.
“He must locate really well, because you can’t go through left-handed hitters like that unless you locate.”
It took Kintzler — a two-time 40th-round draft pick — seven years to locate the big leagues after traversing a rocky road that included shoulder surgery and parts of three seasons in independent leagues. And he didn’t hit his lowest point until after reaching the majors.
Unheralded coming out of high school, Kintzler paid his way to Pasadena City College in Pasadena, Calif.
“I was never a big prospect in high school,” he said. “I threw kind of hard, but I’m not 6-5, I’m 5-10. I didn’t stand out to anybody.”
After putting himself on the map at Pasadena, Kintzler helped Dixie State College of Utah win the 2004 junior college national title.
He signed with the San Diego Padres but was released after two injury-plagued seasons in the minors.
“My problem was I couldn’t stay healthy until 2009,” he said.
Kintzler sat out the 2006 season following shoulder surgery and then battled his way back to a big league organization by way of independent leagues in Canada and the United States.
“It’s a grind — 17-hour bus rides and playing in front of 100 people, but I always told myself ‘I just have to get healthy,’ ” he said. “It was a blessing in disguise for me because my velocity wasn’t going to be back for a while, so I had to learn how to pitch without velocity and move the ball around.
“When my velocity came back in 2009, I knew how to pitch with movement.”
After spending two seasons with the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the Northern League, Kintzler joined the St. Paul (Minn.) Saints of the American Association in 2009 and impressed scouts at the league’s All-Star Game, at which he was clocked at a season-high 94 mph.
The next day, the Brewers purchased his contract and sent him to Double-A Huntsville, Ala.
Kintzler took full advantage of his second chance in 2010, going 4-0 with a combined 1.47 ERA for Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville, Tenn., to earn a September call-up to Milwaukee.
He opened the 2011 season with the Brewers and appeared to finally have arrived when he suffered a stress fracture in his elbow that required season-ending surgery in July in which a screw was inserted into his elbow.
Still hurting at the start of last year, Kintzler opened the season on the disabled list and was designated for assignment June 28, which he said was the lowest point of his career.
“It’s kind of humbling when 30 teams don’t want you and they can get you for free,” he said. “After that, I was on a mission.”
Kintzler compiled a combined 2.87 ERA in 45 appearances in the minors and regained his velocity along the way.
“It’s amazing what happens when you stop worrying about your elbow,” he said.
Revitalized, Kintzler earned a September call-up to the Brewers, who were chasing a wild-card berth, and went 3-0 with a 3.78 ERA in 14 games down the stretch.
“It was a nice experience to show me what I could do when I was healthy,” he said. “I never doubted my ability.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.