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Red Sox prospect Weiland’s career takes a right turn against lefties

06.10.11 at 1:11 pm ET
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Daisuke Matsuzaka is scheduled to go under the knife today, undergoing Tommy John surgery that will sideline him well into the 2012 season — perhaps even for all of that. That, in turn, affects the depth of the Sox’ rotation.

At the major league level, with Tim Wakefield now in the rotation, Alfredo Aceves serves as an insurance policy. In Pawtucket, Felix Doubront — who impressed the Sox as both a starter and reliever last year in his big league debut — continues to build back up after spending time on the sidelines with a groin injury. He has a 2.33 ERA in seven starts, most recently having allowed three runs in 5 1/3 innings on Thursday.

Yet other options are starting to emerge in Triple-A. Most notably, right-hander Kyle Weiland is positioning himself as a potential starting option down the road.

Weiland commands four pitches: the curveball, the two-seam fastball, the change up, and now a cutter. PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur says that arsenal should translate into major league success for Weiland.

‘€œIt’€™s the command that is impressive,’€ Sauveur said recently.

That command has translated into a .217 opponent’s batting average this season, a 3.00 ERA in 63 innings over 12 starts, and 69 strikeouts — more than one per inning.

Sauveur says it’€™s not just Weiland’€™s command that he likes, but also his maturity.

‘€œYou can see games where guys, the game just speeds up and all they do is just get back on the mound and start throwing,’€ Sauveur says. ‘€œBase hit, they just get the ball and want to throw again. That’€™s not Weiland. He’€™ll sit there, and he’€™ll seek a way to get out of this jam.’€

Weiland is certainly putting himself in position for his first big league call-up sometime this year. Since he will be Rule 5 eligible this coming offseason, he will almost surely be added to the Red Sox‘ roster no later than in September. However, his performance may dictate that he gets his first taste of the majors sooner.

Yet the 24-year-old righty from Albuquerque, New Mexico, isn’€™t just biding his time.

‘€œ[When a player is called up is] something no one can really say for themselves, because it’€™s not up to us,’€ Weiland said. ‘€œIt’€™s just a matter of timing. The only thing we can do is work as hard as we can, and on every opportunity we have to pitch do the best we can, and things will work out.’€

One of the most interesting aspects of growth in Weiland’s game has been his success this year against left-handers. When he was drafted, the Sox though that he would at least turn into a major league reliever based on his ability to use his fastball and curveball to get right-handers out. But it remained to be seen whether he would be able to perform well enough against lefties to emerge as a potential starter.

This year, Weiland has had something of a breakthrough against left-handed hitters, who are hitting just .200 against him, while striking out three times as often as they’re walking (33 strikeouts, 11 walks). Weiland says it’€™s all about the cutter.

‘€œThat’€™s something I’€™ve definitely had in the back of my mind since I started pro ball,’€ Weiland says. ‘€œIt was a pitch that I saw down the line becoming an effective pitch, especially to left-handed hitters, because I didn’€™t have anything going hard into them.’€

Weiland says that because his two-seam fastball sinks away from lefties, the cutter becomes a nice complementary pitch. Weiland, who sometimes relaxes before games by strumming an acoustic guitar at his locker, says he just had to wait to get the OK from management to use the cutter; he was asked to refine his other three pitches before using the pitch again.

‘€œIt’€™s been a big help, but it still has a long way to go,’€ Weiland says.

His cutter still lacks consistency, and has the tendency to become a softer slider when Weiland gets on the side of the ball instead of staying on top of it. When the pitch is a true cut fastball and not a slider, Weiland says, it’€™s especially useful at drawing contact and inducing double plays.

Sauveur says that while he thinks the cutter has been a good addition, Weiland should be careful not to overuse it. Sauveur doesn’€™t want hitters sitting on one pitch when Weiland has ‘€œfour good pitches.’€

When Weiland needs a strikeout, the former Notre Dame closer uses his backdoor curveball.

‘€œThat’€™d be an 0-2 go-to right away,’€ Weiland says, and Sauveur agrees.

‘€œHe’€™ll throw a backdoor curveball that guys give up on, because it’€™s such a good curveball, such a sharp curveball,’€ Sauveur says, describing its curve as a 1-7 or 2-8.

‘€œIt’€™s off the plate to a lefty,’€ Sauveur says. ‘€œWhen he throws it, I mean it’€™s so sharp, and it hits the outside part of the plate, and guys are giving up on it. I’€™ll tell you right now, a lot of those strikeouts are takes to lefties.’€

Weiland’€™s first start in Triple-A wasn’€™t what he wanted, as he gave up four earned runs in just three innings while walking two and allowed a .467 average to the Rochester Red Wings (a Twins affiliate). Since then, he’s been one of the best pitchers in the International League, forging a 2.55 ERA in his last 11 starts. In some ways, Weiland was glad to get such a terrible start out of the way early.

Says Weiland, ‘€œTo have that experience of failure and not doing well, and to be able to come out and then find it, I think that was a good experience to have, knowing down the road if it ever happened again, it’€™s all right, there’€™s time to come back.’€

Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka, kyle weiland, Pawtucket Red Sox, Rich Sauveur
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