Red Sox: Ryan Weber poised for breakout season in rotation

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JUNE 06: Starting pitcher Ryan Weber #65 of the Boston Red Sox warms up just prior to the game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on June 06, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JUNE 06: Starting pitcher Ryan Weber #65 of the Boston Red Sox warms up just prior to the game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on June 06, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

Ryan Weber is poised for a breakout season in the Red Sox rotation.

Ryan Weber is what you might call a journeyman, having bounced around to three different teams in his first four major league seasons before landing with the Boston Red Sox last year. His production has been underwhelming but it’s not too late for the 29-year-old to alter people’s perception of him with a breakout campaign.

Weber is 3-9 with a 5.04 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in 42 career appearances, including 11 starts. He made three spot starts for the Red Sox last season but was shelled for 10 runs in 11 1/3 innings.

That 7.94 ERA over those three starts is a bit misleading though. Weber only had one truly bad start when he was hammered for seven runs by the Cleveland Indians last May. He was given a quick hook with only one out in the second inning after allowing a pair of runs in his next start. His first start last season was promising though, with Weber limiting the Toronto Blue Jays to one run over six innings for his first win in a Red Sox uniform.

Weber arrived in camp to battle for a spot at the back of Boston’s rotation but circumstances have led to a leap into the No. 3 spot. Chris Sale is out for the year recovering from surgery, David Price has been traded away, and Eduardo Rodriguez hasn’t been cleared to return since testing positive for COVID-19.

That leaves Nathan Eovaldi as the likely Opening Day starter followed by Martin Perez. Weber lines up as the third starter by default.

That doesn’t mean that Weber hasn’t earned this opportunity. He was brilliant in Spring Training 1.0, tossing nine shutout innings over three starts. He struck out 11 without allowing a walk.

That was months ago but the interruption to spring training caused by the pandemic hasn’t made Weber lose focus. He was sharp while tossing four innings in an intrasquad game on Saturday, throwing 47 of 64 pitches for strikes, after which he declared that his performance has made his manager’s decision easy.

"“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,” Weber said on a Zoom call, per WEEI’s Rob Bradford. “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.”"

A few strong exhibition outings aren’t enough to convince anyone that Weber is set to dominate but there are signs that he’s heading for a career year.

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It starts with trust. Weber has never been trusted to be a starter for a full season but he’ll enter 2020 with a clear lock on a rotation spot. Trusting his stuff will be key and his strong spring has helped build his confidence.

Weber isn’t afraid to attack the zone, changing location by moving pitches inside and out while maintaining command. His career 1.7 BB/9 rate shows how stingy he has been with allowing walks. He won’t pile up many strikeouts, although his 6.4 K/9 last year was a career high so he’s at least trending in the right direction.

He isn’t going to blow anyone away with a fastball that barely cracks 90 mph but Weber has the ability to keep hitters off balance by mixing up his pitches. He relies primarily on a sinker that he throws more than half the time while mixing in a curveball and changeup. Weber will occasionally throw a four-seam fastball and last year he began experimenting with a cutter. That’s five pitches that he can confidently throw for strikes.

For a pitcher who can’t rely on velocity to challenge hitters, having an arsenal of five pitches he can use to keep them guessing is vital to Weber navigating opposing lineups multiple times as a starter.

Nobody is suggesting that Weber has ace potential or will garner Cy Young consideration this year. That’s not what the Red Sox are asking him to do and it’s not necessary for this to be considered a breakout season. If he can make double-digits starts while lasting five or six innings in each and producing an ERA in the low 4.00’s, that’s enough to keep Boston’s powerful lineup in the game.

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Giving his team a legitimate chance to win every fifth day is enough for Weber to hang on to his rotation spot and consider this year a success. Based on what he’s shown between Spring Training 1.0 and Summer Camp, that goal seems to be within reach.