By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen
PAWTUCKET, R.I. Entering his start Monday night at McCoy Stadium against the Charlotte Knights, the White Sox Triple-A affiliate, right-hander Kyle Weiland had given up more than two earned runs just once in his previous 11 starts. He entered the game second in the International League with 69 strikeouts in 63 innings, 12th with an ERA of 3.00, a WHIP of 1.23, and a strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 2.46, holding opponents to a .217 average.
But, it was an inhospitable welcome to Triple A for Weiland. Beginning the season with Pawtucket, Weiland lasted just three innings in his first start, April 8 against Rochester, giving up four runs, throwing 68 pitches.
The Red Sox third-round pick in the 2008 draft out of Notre Dame was a closer in college, who became a full-time starter two seasons ago. He has made steady progress through the Sox system, never spending more than a season at any level. As it is for many players or pitchers making the jump to Triple A for the first time, it was a learning experience for Weiland.
The game speed is just a little quicker. The adjustments are made a little quicker. The base runners react quicker. The managers react quicker, said PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler, who also had Weiland at Double-A Portland last season. Instead of a guy taking two or three pitches to run on a guy when hes slow, they're going next pitch, things like that. The hitters know what these guys are throwing. They watch in the dugout. So when they go to hit theyre ready to go. And hes stepped up also. Hes doing a better job working ahead in the count and finishing hitters off, pitching to contact, being able to pitch to hitters weaknesses and things like that. So hes just getting better every time out. Hes fun to watch.
Weiland wasted little time setting things right after that initial rough outing. Although he was roughed up Monday night, giving up four runs in 5 13 innings for the loss, in his second start, on April 14 in Syracuse, he went 4 23 innings, giving up one run with 10 strikeouts. In his last five starts entering Mondays game, he had posted a record of 3-0 with a 1.61 ERA, giving up five earned runs over a combined 28 innings, with 29 strikeouts.
Hes just learning how to pitch a little bit more, Beyeler said. Its just the reps. He went thru a stretch last year where he was really good for about six weeks. The stuff is there and now were seeing the stuff and hes starting to pitch and just learning how to pitch more effectively, more consistently, and really doing a good job at holding runners, just things like that. Hes starting to round those edges off, doing a real nice job.
For pitching coach Rich Sauveur, Weilands biggest step since last season has been his secondary pitches curveball, changeup, and now a slider.
His changeup has improved a lot, Sauveur said. And with his arm slot and the arm action he has on his fastball, if he can maintain a decent selling of the changeup with that arm slot and arm speed, its going to be a plus pitch. Ive seen some really good ones, and some not good ones. It can be a good pitch for him. It really can. His curveball, for me, is an out pitch. Its unbelievable. Lefties give up on it. Its a great pitch. So, were real proud of this guy. He just works real hard on what hes doing.
Weiland has added a cutter this season, which has served him well against left-handed hitters, who are hitting just .200 against him.
I was familiar with the cutter in college, said Weiland, who turns 25 in September. I didnt throw it much because I was a closer, and it wasnt necessary to have four pitches as a closer. So I rarely ever threw it. But I did know how to throw it and I would always mess around with it. So when I was starting I really thought that would be something I needed, something that would be a huge advantage, especially to lefties, because I didnt have anything going that way hard. Theyve seen enough sinkers and fastballs away. They can make adjustments. So it was a pitch I was familiar with but this year I got to put it into my everyday routine like every other pitch. Get out there and throw it a few times. Some days its there, some days its not. I dont try to beat myself up trying to find it because it is a work in progress. But its just like anything else. It takes constant work and effort to try to find consistency with it.
Sauveur likens Weilands ability to a former PawSox righty.
I believe this kid will pitch in the big leagues for a long time. I really do, Sauveur said. I know sometimes, to me, it sounds like maybe I say it a lot, but I remember saying it about right-hander Clay Buchholz. I remember saying, We know hes already pitched in the big leagues and we know hes going to have a great career. Its just a matter of when its going to start. Same thing with Weiland. Hes done a great job of progressing through the organization. He knows how to pitch. Hes a good listener. He studies what he does and he learns from his mistakes. Hes going to pitch in the big leagues and hes going to have a very successful career.
Those are the kind of words any minor leaguer longs to hear.
That feels good, Weiland said. To hear something like that when youve been working hard, and thats the ultimate goal, so that feels good. But at the same time, it doesnt change anything. I still got to get there, someway, somehow. The only way to do that is keep working hard, and go out there and see what happens. The only thing I can control is day five. I cant control anything else. So just do the best I can do.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen