Why can't Ryan Weber be this season's success story?

Rob Bradford
July 11, 2020 - 9:53 pm
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We need some good stories these days. This could be one of the best of the bunch.

It doesn't matter how Ryan Weber got here. He's here. The likely third starter for the Red Sox when this 60-game season rolls around. That in itself is a pretty solid tale. What might be around the corner promises to be even better.

Let's start with the here and now. This could be Weber's big chance, the one he has been working for since being drafted in the 22nd round 11 years ago. Some might look at his lot in life as simply a product of desperation with the injury to Chris Sale, the exit of Rick Porcello and the current COVID-19 case of Eduardo Rodriguez. That, however, is not how the pitcher or his manager view the situation.

Strip away the perception, the one that comes with a maybe-six-foot frame and high 80's fastball. For some, that's not easy to do. But for those facing him this calendar year -- including Saturday's intrasquad scrimmage -- it's not difficult. Find a pitcher who dominated like Weber did in Spring Training 1.0, when he didn't allow an earned run over nine innings while striking out 11 and not walking a batter, and you will find someone who deserves this kind of chance.

"If you just looked at what I did in spring training it’s not like Ron (Roenicke) committed to me after like giving up six runs or whatever. I threw nine innings, I didn’t give up an earned run and I was sharp every outing," he said after throwing 47 of his 64 pitches for strikes Saturday. "So I like think I made the decision easy for Rags to put me in the rotation. I went out there and did my job and that’s what Ron was expecting me to do and held up my end of the bargain."

There is a hint of befuddlement when Weber is forced to defend his existence as a starting pitching aberration. 

Yes, it has taken Weber longer than most to arrive. But it's not like this is a total blind leap of faith.

There was that first career start in 2015 when he allowed two runs over six innings against the Phillies. Two starts later he allowed just one run in seven innings vs. the same team. Two starts after that it was going toe-to-toe with Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals, resulting in a seven-inning, one-run, 10-strikeout and no-walk outing. "To strike out 10 guys in a big-league game, especially coming from a guy who doesn't strike guys out ... And that was my first year in the big leagues. It proved to myself I could be a big-league starter," Weber told WEEI.com last season when reflecting on the showdown against the Nationals.

And then there was that first career win, coming six innings of one-run ball at Rogers Centre last May.

Put it this way, Roenicke and the Red Sox had been sold even before the clouds parted for the pitcher's current opportunity. There have been adjustments (such as Roenicke's suggestion he starts his delivery with the glove in his midsection instead of down by his belt in order to better hide the ball). But this new lot in life, with this player and this team, is no coincidence.

"I like it because he goes right at the hitters," the Red Sox manager said. "You know what you’re going to get. He moves the ball in and out. He’s got command. He throws strikes. You have a game like he pitched against the Yankees at their place and he did so well. He’s capable of doing that. He’s capable of going through some really good lineups. The consistency is trying to get comfortable in the big leagues, knowing you can pitch here with the stuff that he has. He’s a great athlete. I think he’ll be able to repeat things and when he’s going to be off a little bit with his command, he’s probably going to get hit that night. But I like everything I see. And I think with where we are in our starting rotation, he’s going to obviously fit in their nice and part of that five-man staff."

He added, "I think it’s just, seeing different pitchers, seeing what kind of stuff they have and can they repeat it and mentally what are they like that you see as a big-league pitcher that they’ll be able to maintain that knowing that once in a while, you’re going to get hit and then how do you bounce back from that. Webby seems to be that type of personality. Not much affects him. He’s pretty low key and he doesn’t have his highs and lows. Those kind of guys as starting pitchers seem to be a little more consistent."

That brings us back to what might be.

There are plenty of out-of-nowhere starting pitching success stories. Remember when Steven Wright got a spot in the Red Sox' rotation in 2016 because of Eduardo Rodriguez's dislocated kneecap? A few months later he was a member of the American League All-Star team. In fact, if there was a 60-game season in 2016 Wright would have been in the Cy Young Award conversation, totaling a 2.09 in 12 starts (3 complete games) by June 10.

Few were banking on Wright that season. It is the same sort of side-eyes many outsiders are giving the Red Sox rotation when seeing Weber in the No. 3 spot.

How could this guy match up against some the other starters in the American League and National League East? We're talking Patrick Corbin, Jake Arrieta, J.A. Happ, and Porcello, along with "accepted" up-and-comers Asher Wojciechowski, Max Fried, and Chase Anderson.

How? One pitch at a time. And so far Weber's 2020 pitches have been pretty convincing.

"I’ve started focusing on the importance of every single pitch and every single pitch matters," he said. "I told myself that when spring training started, and I’m telling that to myself now. I firmly believe that every single pitch really matters."