Mullen on the Minors: Couch adjust to changing role

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Mullen on the Minors: Couch adjust to changing role

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

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

Bean: There's no way to spin a potential Ortiz return as a bad idea

As if there weren’t enough storylines with the 2017 Red Sox, there figures to be the lingering possibility that, at any point, one of the franchise’s greatest hitters will return to make a push for his fourth World Series title.

As Pedro Martinez keeps saying, he won’t believe David Ortiz is retired until season’s end.

And with that possibility comes a good ol’ fashioned sports debate: You’re maybe the biggest lunatic in the whole wide world if you’re hoping for the latter.

There are exactly two potential downsides to Ortiz coming back. One is that the team would be worse defensively if it puts Hanley Ramirez in the field, a tradeoff that seemingly anyone would take if it meant adding Ortiz’ offense to the middle of the order. The other is that we would probably have to see Kenan Thompson’s Ortiz impression again . . . which, come to think of it, would be the worst. Actually, I might kill myself if that happens.  

All the other drawbacks are varying degrees of noise. It basically boils down to the “what if he isn’t good?” fear. Which may be valid, but it shouldn’t be reason enough to not want him to attempt a comeback.

Ortiz is coming off a 38-homer, 127-RBI 2016 in which he hit .315 with a league-best 1.021 OPS. It's probably the best final season of any hitter over the last 50 years.

We also know Ortiz is 41 and dealt with ankle and heel injuries so vast in recent years that he was “playing on stumps,” according to Red Sox coordinator of sports medicine services Dan Dyrek. There is the possibility that he was almost literally on his last legs in 2016 and that he doesn’t have another great season in him.

Unless Ortiz is medically incapable and/or not interested in returning, what would the harm be in rolling the dice? Is it a money thing? It really depends on just how intent the Sox are on staying under the luxury-tax threshold, but it’s hard to imagine that holding them up given that they’ve bobbed over and under the line throughout the years.

The one unacceptable argument is the legacy stuff, which expresses concern that Ortiz would tarnish his overall body of work if he came back for one last season and was relatively ineffective.  

If you think that five years after Ortiz is done playing, a single person will say, “Yeah, he’s a Hall of Famer; it’s just a shame he came back that for one last season,” you’re absolutely crazy. The fact that one could dwell that much on a legacy shows how much they romanticize the player, meaning that in however many years it's the 40-homer seasons, and not the potentially underwhelming few months in 2017, that will stand the test of time.

But he’ll have thrown away having one of the best final seasons ever for a hitter.

Oh man. That’s a life-ruiner right there. A 10-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion totally becomes just another guy if you take that away.

Plus, the fact that he’s a DH limits how bad it could really be. You won’t get the sight of an over-the-hill Willie Mays misplaying fly balls in the 1973 World Series after hitting .211 in the regular season. Ortiz will either be able to hit or he won’t, and if it’s the latter they’ll chalk it up to age and injuries and sit him down. Any potential decision to put him on the field in a World Series would likely mean his bat was worth it enough to get them to that point.

The Red Sox, on paper at least, have a real shot at another title. Teams in such a position should always go for broke. Ortiz has absolutely nothing left to prove, but if he thinks he has anything left to give, nobody but the fans who dropped 30-something bucks on T-shirts commemorating his retirement should have a problem with that.

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

MLB may make rule changes for '18 season

PHOENIX - Major League Baseball intends to push forward with the process that could lead to possible rule changes involving the strike zone, installation of pitch clocks and limits on trips to the pitcher's mound. While baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed hope the ongoing process would lead to an agreement, he said clubs would reserve the right to act unilaterally, consistent with the rule-change provision of the sport's labor contract.

Union head Tony Clark said last weekend he did not foresee players agreeing to proposed changes for 2017. Under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, management can alter playing rules only with agreement from the union - unless it gives one year notice. With the one year of notice, management can make changes on its own.

"Unfortunately it now appears that there really won't be any meaningful change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA," Manfred said Tuesday during a news conference. "I've tried to be clear that our game is fundamentally sound, that it does not need to be fixed as some people have suggested, and I think last season was the kind of demonstration of the potential of our league to captivate the nation and of the game's unique place in American culture."

Yet, he also added: "I believe it's a mistake to stick our head in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed and continues to change."

Manfred said while he prefers an agreement, "I'm also not willing to walk away." He said he will send a letter to the union in the coming days and plans to continue dialogue with Clark and others in hopes of reaching agreement.

Clark met with Cactus League teams last week, five at a time over Thursday, Friday and Saturday, before departing Monday for Florida to visit each Grapefruit League club - and proposed rules changes were a topic.

"I have great respect for the labor relations process, and I have a pretty good track record for getting things done with the MLBPA," Manfred said. "I have to admit, however, that I am disappointed that we could not even get the MLBPA to agree to modest rule changes like limits on trips to the mound that have little effect on the competitive character of the game."

Clark saw talks differently.

"Unless your definition of `cooperation' is blanket approval, I don't agree that we've failed to cooperate with the commissioner's office on these issues," he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year we took a step backward in some ways, and this offseason we've been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened. I would be surprised if those discussions with MLB don't continue, notwithstanding today's comments about implementation. As I've said, fundamental changes to the game are going to be an uphill battle, but the lines of communication should remain open."

Clark added "my understanding is that MLB wants to continue with the replay changes (2-minute limit) and the no-pitch intentional walks and the pace of game warning/fine adjustments."

Manfred said he didn't want to share specifics of his priorities for alterations.

"There's a variety of changes that can be undertaken," Manfred said. "I'm committed to the idea that we have a set of proposals out there and we continue to discuss those proposals in private."

MLB has studied whether to restore the lower edge of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level - at the top of the kneecap. Management would like to install 20-second pitch clocks in an attempt to speed the pace of play - they have been used at Triple-A and Double-A for the past two seasons.

Players also have been against limiting mound meetings. The least controversial change appears to be allowing a team to call for an intentional walk without the pitcher having to throw pitches. In addition, MLB likely can alter some video review rules without the union's agreement- such as shortening the time a manager has to call for a review.

"Most of this stuff that they were talking about I don't think it would have been a major adjustment for us," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Manfred said starting runners on second base in extra innings sounds unlikely to be implemented in the majors. The change will be experimented with during the World Baseball Classic and perhaps at some short-season Class A leagues. Manfred said it was a special-purpose rule "beneficial in developmental leagues."

Manfred also said Tuesday that a renovated Wrigley Field would be a great choice to host an All-Star Game and Las Vegas could be a "viable market for us."

"I don't think that the presence of legalized gambling in Las Vegas should necessarily disqualify that market as a potential major league city," Manfred said.