PAWTUCKET — Protecting pitchers from injury is a major part of Pawtucket Red Sox manager Arnie Beyeler’s job. It isn’t something he can control. Competition and the need to succeed push some pitchers to keep throwing, even when their body sends them hints that something is wrong.
On Sunday, PawSox starter Kyle Weiland “felt a twinge” while warming up for the sixth inning. He quickly motioned to the dugout and Beyeler went to his bullpen.
“Kyle did the right thing,” Beyeler said after the PawSox dropped a 2-0 verdict to first-place Lehigh Valley, which avoided a four-game sweep at McCoy Stadium.
Weiland struck out seven batters in five innings and trailed 2-0, having given up a home run to Cody Overbeck in the third inning along with a RBI single to Jeff Larish.
“Kyle threw the ball well,” Beyeler said. “He got a cramp in his leg and told us about it right away. He got his work in today. And then he did the right thing and told us something was wrong. He should be okay in a day or two.”
Weiland is a third-round 2008 draft pick out of Notre Dame who is still filling out his resume in Class AAA ball, hoping to impress Boston with his steady pitching. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound right-hander has been one of Pawtucket’s top starters this season. He is 5-6 with a 3.27 earned run average while throwing a team-high 78.1 innings.
Although teammate Andrew Miller, who will start for Boston tonight at Fenway Park against San Diego, has been more spectacular of late, Weiland is the type of innings-eater who keeps minor league teams afloat.
At the age of 24, Weiland remains a prospect, flying under the radar as Miller and former big leaguer Kevin Millwood get most of the attention in the cozy cocoon of Pawtucket’s locker room. Miller got his chance on Sunday when Boston put pitcher Clay Buchholz on the disabled list with a lower back strain that has been bothered the right-hander for the past three weeks. That officially opened up a roster spot for Miller, who has known for three days that he would get a start for Boston this week.
Millwood pitched 7.2 innings of one-run baseball against Lehigh Valley on Saturday night, a performance that might earn interest from big league teams who have room for a 38-year-old big league veteran. He is currently working on a minor league contract with Boston after opting out of a similar deal with the Yankees on May 1.
Sunday’s game was all about pitching. Lehigh Valley, which lost starter Brian Gordon to the Yankees in an opt-out situation five days ago, started former closer Scott Mathieson in his place on Sunday. Mathieson, who worked on a limited pitch count, touched 97 miles per hour several times. He threw 62 pitches in 3.2 innings, during which he struck out seven batters.
Mathieson, 27, is no slouch. He made the International League All-Star team in 2010 while compiling 26 saves. Two Tommy John surgeries in 2006 and 2007 ended his starting career until Sunday, when the Iron Pigs had a hole to plug in their starting rotation.
“We’ve seen him before,” Beyeler said. “He’s got a good arm. He’s a big kid who throws hard.”
Former big leaguer Jason Grilli came on to get the next four outs and vulture his fourth win in as many decisions. Lehigh Valley followed with two scoreless innings apiece from lefty Mike Zagurski and righthander Mike Schwimer, a 6-foot-8 fireballer who struck out Lars Anderson and Ryan Lavarnway on curveballs to end the game.
Pawtucket managed only four hits all game. Daniel Nava got two of them. Lavarnway and Brian Dlugach each doubled. The PawSox went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. And they struck out 11 times.
“That’s baseball,” Beyeler said. “If we could flip a switch every game, our record would be a lot better. This is how the game works. Lehigh lost three games in a row to us. We’re all in the same boat. That’s why we play 144 games.”
Pawtucket went 4-4 on this eight-game home stand. Beyeler’s bunch begins an eight-game road trip tonight in Louisville before returning home on June 28 against Rochester.
The PawSox, 35-33 after 68 games, are 6 ½ games behind Lehigh Valley in the International League North. They sit in third place, 1 ½ games behind second-place Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (36-31).
The season will be halfway over in a few days. Developing players for Boston, and keeping them healthy, remains the key concern for Arnie Beyeler and his staff. But the manager and his players are competitors. They want to make the postseason. Louisville, at 40-30, is the current wild-card playoff leader. The PawSox need to break even, at least, on this road trip to stay within hailing distance of the wild-card.
Matt Fox (4-2, 2.88) will pitch for Pawtucket tonight against Louisville’s Tom Cochran (6-1, 3.64).
EXTRA BASES: Sunday marked just the sixth time since May 28 that the PawSox did not make a roster move … Pawtucket is down to 23 players after Miller departed. The roster limit is 24 … Rehabbing lefthander Franklin Morales pitched a scoreless eighth inning for Pawtucket, allowing one hit and throwing just 11 pitchers. “We want to stretch him out a bit,” Beyeler of the lefthanded reliever acquired from Colorado on May 19 for a player to be named later … A solid Father’s Day crowd of 8,136 attended Sunday’s game.