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A ‘big day’ for Ryan Westmoreland

08.17.11 at 2:51 pm ET
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Ryan Westmoreland will face live pitching from a batter's box on Wednesday for the first time since his surgery on March 16, 2010. (WEEI.com)

For much of 2011, Ryan Westmoreland‘s progress in his efforts to return from brain surgery on March 16, 2010, has been methodical. The steady improvements he’s been making have not always been obvious to casual observers, or, in all likelihood, to Westmoreland himself.

Wednesday is different. For the first time since his surgery, Westmoreland will step into the batter’s box for live batting practice, with a pitcher on the mound throwing at full velocity. While Westmoreland had progressed to facing a pitching machine that ratcheted up to near-game velocities and that also spun breaking balls, the act of stepping into a box with a pitcher on the mound represents a significant milestone, something that Westmoreland noted.

“March 16, 2010. God doesn’t deal cards to people who can’t handle them. BIG day,” Westmoreland wrote on his twitter account (@rwesty25).

The plan is for Westmoreland to track pitches out of the pitcher’s hand, rather than to take swings. Nonetheless, doing that — and, in the process, offering the assurance that he is able to pick up pitch type, speed and direction out of a pitcher’s hand — is a critical step to demonstrate that he is not at risk of getting hit while stepping in the box and trying to hit. That, in turn, represents a significant step in Westmoreland’s progression to fulfill the goal that he and the Sox have agreed upon this year of an at-bat in a game, likely in either Florida Instructional League or the Dominican Instructional League.

Westmoreland’s father, Ron Westmoreland, elaborated in an email to WEEI.com on the significance of the event.

“Although the Sox are great in allowing Ryan to take on new steps when he feels ready, they are also careful in controlling that pace to be one that is safe yet progressive. This is another one of those milestones that they are all comfortable with, and it speaks volumes about how far he has come,” said Ron Westmoreland. “As you know getting in the box against full velocity and tracking pitches to pick up spin and location is a big one, and it seems taking hacks at it is getting closer.

“Each of these steps forward is important for Ryan to continue to maintain the belief that he can do this. The Red Sox staff continues to show incredible patience and diligence in their approach. We are just sitting back and letting it all happen and continuing to be really proud of him for how hard he works and how much he wants it.”

It remains to be seen when Westmoreland will progress to swinging against live pitching. Nonetheless, the feeling is that the issue of “when” is less important than the fact that it appears far more likely than not that he will do just that in a comeback that already qualifies, in many respects, as remarkable.

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