Byrd Finds Plenty of Promise in Pawtucket
|08.19.09 at 11:53 pm ET|
PAWTUCKET — Paul Byrd sat in the Paw Sox dugout in the first contest of a day-night doubleheader in which he was starting the night game against the Rochester Red Wings. He high-fived manager Ron Johnson in the clubhouse and certainly seemed eager to get back on the mound.
The Red Sox signed Byrd to a minor-league contract on August 5 in hopes that he could get in shape in time to help the team down the stretch. After two outings in the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League, Byrd moved up to Triple-A Pawtucket to face advanced competition for the first time on Wednesday.
His line of four innings giving up three runs on six hits while walking one and striking out three (in a 5-1 loss, the PawSox’ ninth straight defeat) doesn’t tell the entire story of the outing. Byrd’s main goal was to get a feel for the ball and move his pitches around the strike zone. By and large, he did that, throwing 49 of his 74 pitches for strikes. Two of his three strikeouts came on his slider.
“The most important thing is that I’m commanding pitches,” Byrd said. ”What I mean by that is I can throw the ball to both sides of the plate, slider both sides, I have good command on my changeup and I can keep it down. Those things are what’s really important to me. I hung my slider here and there but overall I felt really really good.”
Byrd pitched a 1-2-3 first inning on five pitches, four of which were strikes, before he ran into some trouble in the second. After a leadoff double by left fielder Justin Huber, Byrd gave up a single and a walk to load the bases before a double from DH Trevor Plouffe scored two runs. Byrd settled down with three straight outs, ending the inning with a strikeout on a fastball to leadoff hitter Matt Tolbert to conclude a 10-pitch battle of an at-bat.
“I thought the slider was pretty good,” Byrd said. “It wasn’t as sharp as I’d like it to be but I got some big strikeouts on it and in the second inning the leadoff hitter bothered me, I went 0-2 on him, and I tried to throw a slider in. It started in but ended up over the middle and he hit it down the line. That’s the one pitch that will cost me a couple hours of sleep, it’ll bother me a little bit. Overall I threw a lot of good quality pitches.”
Byrd had a similar third inning. After a fly out to right, he gave up a double to catcher Jose Morales and a single to left off of Huber that scored Morales from second. Once again he settled down for two straight outs with a fly out to left field and a strikeout on an offspeed pitch. Byrd came out in the fourth with two groundouts before giving up a single to center off the bat of Dustin Martin. He then hit Tolbert but got Steven Tolleson to fly out to center to conclude his night.
Three of the six hits off of Byrd came on his fastball, which hovered around 86-87 mph and topped out at 89 mph. He mixed in his slider and changeup, garnering six outs on fly balls against three on the ground.
While Byrd received the loss, he was happy with the outing and confident that he could be ready for the Red Sox in the near future.
“I feel good. Today was a big step for me because I needed to see that my fastball was good enough,” Byrd said. “There were a lot of swings and misses, there were a lot of missed hits, there were a lot of foul balls where they were out in front and then I beat them in a lot. So I needed to see that I wasn’t going to be throwing batting practice and that my fastball had life because there’s 85, 86 mph that leaves the park and there’s 85,86 mph that is sneaky and it cuts and sinks and guys can’t figure it out. I needed to see that I still had that and I felt for the most part I did.”
Byrd could conceivably pitch two more outings before the September 1 date for expanded rosters. By then, he hopes to reach a pitch count in the 90s while further refining his slider. The Sox will certainly welcome the help if Byrd can pull out another decent outing before they hit the home stretch leading up to the playoffs.
“When you see experience at that level of what this guy has done in his career it’s fun to watch,” Pawtucket manager Johnson said. “Hopefully a lot of our young guys were watching, especially during the innings when he gave up the runs because (he had) the calmness, the maturity, the consistency to make pitches to stay in certain areas. He bent a little bit but you didn’t see all of the sudden the game speed up or him serve one up and a guy crush one. I never got the feeling we were going to be in a situation where we would give up massive amounts of runs and that’s what veteran major league players do.”
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