Pawtucket Red Sox pitcher Josh Fields, shown delivering a pitch during a spring training game in March with the Boston Red Sox, has not allowed a run and struck out 16 batters in 11 2/3 innings of work with the PawSox. PHOTO BY KELLY O'CONNOR
PAWTUCKET â€“ Believe it or not, pitchers do gain velocity as the season deepens. In the case of Josh Fields, the spike in the right-handerâ€™s radar gun readings have proven most dramatic â€“ not to mention raise eyebrows.
These days a fixture in Pawtucketâ€™s bullpen, Fields generally sits at 93-95 miles per hour with his fastball occasionally touching 96 mph.
One of the pieces the Red Sox obtained as part of the Erik Bedard deal with the Mariners on July 31, 2011, Fields entered Fridayâ€™s game with an 11 2/3 scoreless-innings streak intact, which coincidently spans his entire body of work in a PawSox uniform.
Now that you have a taste of what Fields has done since leaving Double-A Portland on August 3, itâ€™s time to delve into just how far heâ€™s come since the onset of the 2012 campaign.
According to the 27-year-old native of Georgia, Fields was felled by arm soreness that started surfacing toward the end of spring training. There was also some reluctance to what as Fields dubbed â€ścutting it loose.â€ť As a result his fastball was quite ordinary, the pitcher noting that it generally ranged between the high 80s to low 90s.
â€śI didnâ€™t try to pitch too hard,â€ť Fields admitted while standing in the home dugout at McCoy Stadium. â€śJust try to do what my body allowed me to do.â€ť
As April gave way to May, Fields started to grow tired of not being able to perform up to his desired par. A conversation with Sea Dogs pitching coach Bob Kipper helped place everything into proper perspective, but Fields knew that sooner or later, he would have to move past his phobia and start pitching with conviction.
â€śI finally got to the point where I was getting tired of throwing softer,â€ť Fields said. â€śOne day I said that Iâ€™m going to go out there and see what happens.â€ť
The revelation occurred in early May and kicked off a run where Fields has been virtually untouchable. In his final 14 outings with the Sea Dogs dating back to mid-June, Fields compiled a 2-0 record with a microscopic 0.37 ERA (1 earned run in 24 1/3 innings) with 30 strikeouts.
Certainly Eastern League hitters were glad to bid him adieu after 32 appearances that featured Fields limiting opponents to a .185 average with 59 strikeouts in 44 2/3 innings.
â€śIâ€™ve been able to get into a routine and work on stuff thatâ€™s repeatable,â€ť notes Fields.
See FIELDS, page B3
â€śThe thing that heâ€™s done is that heâ€™s put himself in better position just by repeating his delivery,â€ť said Portland manager Kevin Boles about Fields recently. â€śHis stuff plays in the zone and itâ€™s been unbelievable to watch.â€ť
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Fields has not skipped a beat since joining the PawSox. In fact, you could argue that heâ€™s become even sharper despite relying primarily on his fastball while for the most part staying away from throwing curves.
In his second go-around at the Triple-A level â€“ Fields appeared in nine games for Seattleâ€™s top affiliate Tacoma last season â€“ he has fashioned 16 strikeouts and just two walks. For the entire season, heâ€™s averaging exactly 12 punchouts per nine frames.
Not too shabby for someone who seems like a carbon copy of San Francisco pitcher Tim Lincecum in terms of physique, hair length and release point. For the record, Fields measures out at six feet while the Giants list Lincecum at 5-foot-11.
Unlike Lincecum, Fieldsâ€™ calling card is pitching with the game on the line. A closer at the University of Georgia, Fields finished 28 games for Portland and four for Pawtucket. Between the two levels, heâ€™s racked up 11 saves, one of which was a one-pitch effort last Sunday in Charlotte.
â€śThatâ€™s been a dream of mine, to close in the big leagues,â€ť said Fields.
Now that Daniel Bard is back with Boston, it seemed appropriate to ask PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur for some closure regarding the pitcherâ€™s painful and surprisingly lengthy Triple-A stint.
â€śHe worked very hard at what he was trying to do, which was to get the command back of the fastball and slider,â€ť stated Sauveur. â€śHe knew he had to fix some things. Just like anyone who has a bad outing, he would be upset that night before returning to normal the next day and getting after it.
â€śHe was in a tough situation where heâ€™s been in the big leagues the last three years before getting sent back down,â€ť Sauveur continued. â€śHe was very professional and hopefully what we saw in his last three outings is the guy weâ€™ll see with the Red Sox.â€ť
Sauveur believes being back in that big-league atmosphere will serve as big-time boon for Bard, who in 31 appearances with Pawtucket compiled an ERA just north of seven.
â€śHe knows what itâ€™s all about,â€ť said Sauveur.
No, the PawSox have not changed their name to the Sea Dogs.
Despite featuring a roster with plenty of Double-A call-ups, Pawtucket has not missed a beat. Winners of six straight entering Friday, the PawSox have been able to remain in the thick of the playoff hunt despite losing just about all of their key cogs to the parent club.
Certainly the mega-deal the Red Sox swung with the Dodgers last weekend created a trickle-down effect, particularly at the higher levels. As a result, Pawtucket has received major reinforcements, ranging from players who enjoyed strong Double-A campaigns (Bryce Brentz, Jeremy Hazelbacker) to newcomers to the organization such as Ivan De Jesus.
â€śWeâ€™ve gotten some good players. De Jesus can play three infield positions and seems like a good kid,â€ť said Pawtucket skipper Arnie Beyeler. â€śAs far as the guys from Double A, now seems as good a time as any to throw them out there, watch them play and see what they can do.â€ť