Friday, January 22, 2010

Pitching prospect Weiland still finding routine

Kyle Weiland -- pronounced WHY-land -- didn't have the experience in college of pitching every five days. Weiland pitched out of the bullpen at Notre Dame, compiling a 2.37 ERA in 49 1/3 innings pitched as a freshman and earning 25 saves in his career, a Fighting Irish record.

No matter. That routine would have had little bearing on the routine the 23-year-old righty is trying to learn now that he's a starting pitcher climbing the ladder with the Red Sox.

"From a preparation standpoint, it's so much different than the amateur game," said Mike Hazen, Red Sox director of player development. "They need to learn that at the professional level as well."

Weiland had trouble with his routine at the start of this season, and it cost him: He had a 12.00 ERA at the end of April and 6.91 ERA at the end of May. It wasn't until he caught fire in June -- he allowed just one earned run in five starts, a span of 27 2/3 innings -- that he started to feel a little more comfortable.

Part of the issue with his routine between starts, a routine he'd never really developed during his transition from relieving to starting.

"We do have a strict program for starters," he said. "With five days, you do have something to do every day. But to have a time schedule -- 'This is when I need to get to the field. This is when I'll do this.' -- instead of getting it in anytime during the day, to have a strict routine, will help me stay more consistent."

By the end of the season, Weiland had started to figure it all out. Not once in his final 10 starts did he allow more than three earned runs, and he struck out 10 in six scoreless innings in one gem of a start in late August.

His 3.46 ERA actually ranked him seventh out of 21 qualifiers in the Carolina League by the end of the season.

"He got off to a pretty rough start last year in Salem and really had to struggle to bail himself out of that valley he put himself in -- and he did," Hazen said. "At the end of the year, if you look at his numbers, they compare with just about anybody in the Carolina League."

Weiland made the transition from relieving to starting during his short-season stint at Single-A Lowell after the Red Sox selected him in the third round in 2008. He made five relief appearances before jumping into the Spinners' rotation for 10 starts down the stretch, compiling a 1.23 ERA in the process and earning Red Sox Minor League Pitcher of the Month honors in the process.

"He's got a very heavy sinker that he gets a ton of ground balls with," Haven said. "But he can also strike guys out with his curveball. That consistency of strike-throwing, especially with his secondary pitches, is going to be needed at the upper levels."

With Weiland having pitched out of the bullpen in college, it stands to reason that he'll eventually end up back in the bullpen with such pitchers as Casey Kelly, Michael Bowden, Felix Doubront and Junichi Tazawa ahead of him on prospect charts -- not to mention Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester already in the major leagues.

Hazen wasn't about to make that type of decision at the rookie development camp this week -- but he wasn't about to discount the possibility, either.

"That's one of the things we talk about here: 'Your role at the major-league level may not be what it is at the minor-league level. The first time you come up, if we have fix to six starting pitchers at the major-league level, you're probably not breaking into that rotation right away. You're probably going to have to start in the bullpen,'" Hazen said. "We try to get them prepared for that mentally now: 'Until you establish yourself as a major-league player and as a major-league starter, you may have to go in (out of the bullpen).'

"Taz had to do it, Bowden's had to do it, (Daniel) Bard was obviously a reliever, Buch has had to relieve at the major-league level, (Justin) Masterson had to relieve at the major-league level. They need to be prepared for that."

Said Weiland, "The fast track is as a reliever, but that option always stays open. Even if you start for most of your minor-league career, you could get called up as a reliever -- as we've seen many times."

No comments: