Mullen on the Minors: Couch adjust to changing role

Mullen on the Minors: Couch adjust to changing role
August 10, 2012, 2:46 pm
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In his July 25 outing for High-A Salem, Keith Couch made team history, throwing the franchises first-ever nine-inning complete game. That he allowed just one run on 10 hits with no walks and four strikeouts to earn the win over Myrtle Beach is just as impressive.

That was the first time I did nine since college, Couch said. So the fact that they let me do that and I was able to have a low pitch count to accomplish that was pretty cool. Its been about three years since my last nine inning game, so it was pretty cool to be out there for the start and end of the game.

Couch has served various roles for Salem this season, moving between the rotation and the bullpen. He has appeared in 23 games, making 17 starts, posting a record of 8-8 with a 3.76 ERA.

Hes a guy that I call a hybrid because hes a guy that can do everything for you, said Salem pitching coach Kevin Walker.

Hes a guy that just takes the ball. Hell go out and take the ball and give you some length and give you quality innings. He stays healthy, hes resilient and thats all you can ask for any type of manager or pitching coach. Thats the type of guy you love.

Couch, a 13th-round pick by the Red Sox out of Adelphi University in 2010, is in his third professional season. The righthander, who turns 23 in November, has advanced a level each season. He is in his first season in the High-A Carolina League.

For me, in the Carolina League the big adjustment and the one that I like the most is that its an eight-team league so youre only playing seven teams, Walker said. You face each team 20 times so they really get a good idea about you and get a good idea about them. So its really about making adjustments. The reason I love it so much here is because when these guys do make the major leagues theyre going to face teams 20 times a year in their division. So now they actually have to learn to see hitters and make adjustments when the hitters start to understand what they like to do. Theyve got to respond and make adjustments to the hitters. So it helps you become a better pitcher, a pitcher that is able to make adjustments.

The adjustments arent only on the field. Couch also had to learn to adjust with his changing roles. He began the season in the rotation, moved to the bullpen, and is now back to the rotation.

It wears on you emotionally a little bit, Couch said. But I just come to the conclusion that outs are outs and you still have to pitch and Im getting my innings. That was the biggest thing, just not letting it affect me mentally. A lot of people might look at it as a negative thing and really shut down and let it affect their season. But I just took it as another bump in the road and work with it. Im still pitching. Its not like I got sent home or released or anything.

Couch went through a difficult stretch in July, taking losses in four straight decisions before his complete-game win. In that stretch, he threw a combined 19 13 innings giving up 16 earned runs for a 7.45 ERA. Those kinds of stretches are all part of the learning process

The thing I like about Keith is hes very even-keeled, Walker said. He doesnt ride the high-low roller coaster that some guys do. He understands the game and he understands how hard it is to be a pitcher. When he has good games he doesnt get too excited and when he has some tough games he doesnt let it bury him. Hes able to ride that even keel, so I think having that mentality really helped him in that tough stretch.

Couch enters Thursday among the league leaders in wins, ERA, innings pitched, with 115, WHIP (1.32), and strikeouts (92). He offers this scouting report on himself:

I really consider myself more of a groundball guy. But strikeouts happen. My slider is my out pitch and Im able to use that effectively. So I guess I get a lot of swing and misses with it and a lot of strikeouts.

Id say I throw a lot of strikes, so a lot of guys swing early in the count. In that nine-inning game I gave up 10 hits but it was on first or second pitches and then the next guy Id get a groundball to get a double play on the first pitch also. So, I think thats the biggest thing is to try to get me early in the count.

While Salems season is winding down, there are still things Couch wants to work on this season that he can take into the offseason.

Me and Walker, weve been working on me staying on top of my fastball and driving through the zone and using my changeup more because my slider and curveball have been pretty effective this year and they got me a lot of strikeouts, he said. But these are the little things that will help me out at the next level.

In the offseason, Couch does some coaching at clinics and camps and helps his alma maters team. Its a role he says helps him with his own pitching.

Yeah, definitely, because things that I see on kids, mistakes that they make, I try to picture that on myself and my mechanics and try to relate that to my game, he said. So I think its a big help, definitely.

Couch has two former teammates also playing in the minor leagues. But left-handed reliever Joe Sambito may be the Adelphi alum most Red Sox fans know best.

He helped me out a lot in the draft process, Couch said of Sambito, who is now an agent. Because I was coming from college to not knowing the whole pro world, and no teams even talked to me coming out of high school. So, he was a big help.

Growing up in New York, Couch was, of course, a Yankees fan. He still goes to Yankee Stadium. Now, though, hes a fan of baseball in general, he said. That didnt stop his friends from ribbing him when the Sox picked him.

Yeah, they were all talking smack to me, he said. They were like, Were still not going to root for the Red Sox but well root for you. It was pretty cool.

But that will change if hes ever on the mound for the Sox in Yankee Stadium