BOSTON — Brusdar Graterol has made it clear that he looks up to Jose Berrios and has leaned on him as the hard-throwing pitching phenom finds his way in the major leagues. While he hit 100 mph on his first pitch and did not give up an earned run in his Sept. 1 debut, he’s still a 20 year old playing in a league of players who are 8-9 years older than him on average.
“In reality I just look at him or at them, and it’s like, ‘Well, I’m here and I kinda don’t believe it,’” said Graterol through a translator. “But they’ve been great to me, and helped me adjust to what this is.”
What this is is a team full of prospects who are entering their prime years and veterans showing them the way, for the most part. Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are starting to show why they were so hyped when they were in the Minnesota Twins minor league system. Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco just signed extensions and are having breakout seasons. Luis Arraez came seemingly out of nowhere to become one of the most exciting players on the Minnesota roster.
And players like Nelson Cruz, Marwin Gonzalez and Jake Odorizzi were picked up to show them the way — how to establish a routine, take care of their body and get through the grind of a major league season.
In the scope of the roster, Berrios fits firmly in the former camp. He’s 25, just made his second All-Star Game and is trying to find a way to finish this season strong after hitting a bit of a slump in August.
But to Graterol, he’s like an older brother.
“I know he reveres the guy,” says Rocco Baldelli. “Do I have specific instances to cite? Not really. But talking with him and kind of watching him go about his business, if you just pay attention a little bit, you get the feeling he looks up to him and respects Jose an extraordinary amount.”
Inevitably there will be some consternation about Graterol learning from Berrios, given that Berrios has seen a dip in velocity recently and has a reputation of struggling in the second half of the year. Until we’re certain that it’s directly related to an issue in his routine, rather than physical attributes or some form of dead arm, Berrios is a good person to learn from.
“We met last year or the year before, early in the season, and we have good communication. And we’re getting along pretty well,” said Graterol. “One of the things is his work ethic on the field and off the field, and also how he gets along with his family.
“Those two things are the most important ones that make me look up to him.”
Berrios is known for his beach workouts, a meticulous stretch routine and a disciplined regimen that keeps him in peak physical condition. He also married his high school sweetheart and is the father of three young children.
His nickname is La Makina, or The Machine, and Graterol has started calling himself La Mini Makina after meeting him in Spring Training three years ago.
“Once I met him off the field, I kinda like took that nickname for myself, Pt. II, I guess,” said Graterol, “so I used that. Because when I look at myself in the mirror, it’s a mini Makina.”
Berrios doesn’t seem to mind.
“He calls it himself,” said Berrios, chuckling, “because he’s a real makina. He works really hard every day in the field, so he earned it.”
One day in Spring Training minor league pitching coach Cibney Bello took Graterol to shadow Berrios. He took note of how Berrios stretches, using small rubber balls and other athletic equipment to stay limber, and adapted his methods.
“With baseball, the things he does took me a little time to get to know my body and realize that I need to stretch more,” said Graterol. “And so I started doing that, which is one of the things that I didn’t used to do.”
Even as Berrios works through his own struggles, he’s playing an important role in guiding Graterol as he becomes a major league player.
“He has given me plenty of advice the past few days,” he said, “and that has helped me to be open-minded about things that are happening in the major league clubhouse. And I’m learning a lot.”