Starting pitcher Kyle Weiland of the Boston Red Sox delivers to a Baltimore Orioles batter during the first inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Jon Lester will be back Monday, leaving just Clay Buchholz on the disabled list. This means that Kyle Weiland will likely be optioned back to Pawtucket or moved to the bullpen, but with the recent struggles of Andrew Miller, that isn't exactly set in stone. The Red Sox will soon have a choice to make: should Weiland be moved back to Pawtucket or moved to the pen, or should Miller be sent back down to Pawtucket until he figures out how to throw strikes?
Weiland now has two MLB starts under his belt, and has given up nine runs in 10 innings to the Baltimore Orioles. He has struck out just four batters while walking five and hitting another two, mostly due to an inability to finish off his opponents when he gets them to two strikes. The samples are very limited, so this isn't any kind of prediction about Weiland's future, but the right-hander has a split-adjusted OPS+ of 162 (where 100 is average) when he gets hitters to two strikes.
This is due to Weiland's repertoire. He has multiple pitches to use -- a four-seam fastball, a mid-80s cutter, a curveball he likes to throw inside, and what seems to be an accidental slider when cutters don't quite cut -- but none of them can be considered a plus pitch. There are other pitchers who can say the same thing that are successful in the majors -- Cory Luebke comes to mind -- but Luebke has fantastic command that lets him get away with it. Weiland has not had even average command in the majors, and it has been something of a weak spot in the minors too, even with his recent dominance at Triple-A.
Weiland has shown potential in his first two outings, even though the results have not been pretty. His fastball has a lot of life to it, and he understands what he needs to do to get hitters out... most of the time. He dances around the strike zone a bit too often, throwing pitches that he hopes hitters will offer at even though they can't do anything with them, but are in reality too obviously not strikes when they leave his hand. He strikes me as someone who could dominate in relief, but would be a fringe starter -- in relief, if his cutter isn't cutting, or his curveball isn't quite fooling hitters, he can always rear back and challenge a hitter with speed or paint the corners with fastballs as he has tried to do. Not as much needs to work in concert to succeed out of the pen as does in the rotation, and Weiland, with just an inning or two to pitch, could go all out in terms of velocity.
Boston's pen could use an arm like Weiland's, especially with Bobby Jenks failing to contribute anything of substance to the team this year. The question to ask is whether his presence in the pen is more important than having Miller figure out how to get back to where he was with Pawtucket in terms of attacking hitters and throwing strikes.
Miller's Red Sox career started out well enough, but in his last few starts, things have begun to unravel. He gave up seven runs two starts ago against a patient Rays team that just waited him out, and didn't strike a single hitter out for two consecutive starts. In one of those, he induced 13 grounders, but against the Rays and in yesterday's start against the Orioles, he had just nine total. If it's possible to scatter walks instead of hits, then Miller did just that yesterday, as he allowed six free passes but allowed just two hits. Was that a matter of stuff, or luck? Given he has just three whiffs in his last 13-1/3 starts, the answer leans heavily towards luck.
Miller does have great stuff, though, and has the ability to be much better than a back-end starter. The problem is --and he is aware of this, given his post-game quotes of late -- that he needs to do a better job of coming after hitters, and not letting them get into favorable counts. Miller isn't controlling his opponent's plate appearances like he was in his first few starts, and it's showing up in the all-important walk, strikeout, and groundball numbers.
Should Boston keep him in the rotation to figure things out? It's a dangerous game, but I would have to say yes. I'm not convinced he has anything left to learn at Pawtucket, and it's going to take being beat up in the majors to get him to throw strikes more often (assuming anything can do that). Plus, unless a deal is made for another pitcher, Weiland, as discussed above, isn't necessarily any better in this role at the moment than Miller.
Miller in the rotation and Weiland in the bullpen gives Boston their best possible team while Buchholz is still on the disabled list. Maybe a question will arise once Buchholz returns in regards to Miller versus Tim Wakefield for the fifth spot, but for now, it should be Weiland moving out of the rotation when Lester returns to action.