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April 14, 2011 at 10:30 AM

Q&A with Kyle Weiland

Entering his third full professional season, Kyle Weiland made his Triple-A debut on Friday, April 8 and is on the verge of cracking the major league roster. After being drafted in the third round out of Notre Dame in 2008, Weiland dominated Short Season ball in Lowell to the tune of a 1.50 ERA. Skipping over Low-A, he was able to hold his own in High-A Salem in 2009, posting an ERA of 3.46 with 112 strikeouts over 132.2 innings. 2010 saw him make the jump to upper minors with Double-A Portland, where his ERA rose slightly to 4.42, but he managed to lower his hits against and raise his strikeout totals from the year before over roughly the same amount of innings. Weiland is best known for his two-seam fastball, but also features a mid-90s four-seamer, nice curveball, and solid-developing change-up. I had the chance to sit down with Weiland before Opening Night at McCoy Stadium and discussed being in major league spring training, the possibility of transitioning to a relief role, and a pitch he has been working on adding to his repertoire this winter.

Matt Huegel: Looking back at your career for a second, you were drafted in 2008 in the third round. What would you say are the biggest differences in yourself as a pitcher from then to now?
Kyle Weiland: I would say that I’ve actually learned to pitch, and learned to pitch to my strengths. I’ve learned to recognize when there’s something wrong mechanically and I’m able to fix it instead of allowing it to continue to be a problem affecting the whole outing. I think that’s probably one of the biggest things I’ve learned, to make adjustments. Other than that, pitching’s pitching. It’s always a work in progress, there’s always something new. You never go out there and feel exactly the same the next time. So that’s one thing every pitcher has to identify that day—what changes you have to make, what little adjustments you have to make in order to make yourself the best pitcher that day.

MH: Moving forward to last year, you made the jump to Double-A, which is often considered the biggest jump in minors, but you handled it pretty well. Was that the biggest jump you’ve experienced and how were you able to handle that?
KW: It was the next step up. I struggled at High-A—I had a good season at Short Season-A in Lowell, then I went up to High-A and I struggled, so I had to learn how to pitch that level up. So every level I go up, it’s something that’s a minor adjustment. The goal is to adjust as quickly as possible and start using your strengths to compete. Once you do that, once you settle in and figure out what it takes, it’s like you’re right back into where you should be. But you can definitely tell the difference in the hitters in Double-A.

MH: How did you learn to deal with the increased competition level?
KW: Pitching doesn’t change. You always pitch the same: try to attack the zone, you shouldn’t pitch to hitter’s strengths. A lot of people say that the strike zone gets smaller and whatnot, but that’s something you can’t worry about. You’ve got to be the same pitcher no matter what level you’re at. You’ve got to attack the strike zone early and the most important pitch is strike one. That applies at every level.

MH: Moving ahead to this spring, you spent a lot of time with the big league club, making three Grapefruit League appearances. Talk about that experience. What was it like being around the big leaguers and what did you learn from them?
KW: The second time around was a lot easier to approach some of these guys and ask questions and learn from them, one in particular being [John] Lackey because I just fell on the same day as him. I was going on a five-day starter’s routine while I was up there, and Lackey was on the same day. I got a chance to do a lot of workouts with him and throw with him a little bit. I just mainly watched what he did and how he went about the game. That was the biggest influence that I got from big league camp.

MH: What have you been working on most during the spring and moving into this season?
KW: Right now, it’s getting off the season throwing a lot of strikes. That’s goal number one, to attack the strike zone. I’m working on a cutter now. I would say its definitely coming along since I started throwing it at the beginning of spring training. It’s still got a ways to go and I’ve got to find a feel for it so I can use it to its maximum potential.

MH: I was just going to ask you about the cutter. The Red Sox asked you to stop throwing it when you entered the system, correct?
KW: Yeah, and I don’t think they actually knew I had it because at Notre Dame I was a closer. Being a closer, you need two pitches, and then that wasn’t my best secondary pitch, my curveball was. So I only threw it a handful of times and I’m sure they never even saw it. So when I approached them and told them I have a cutter, they said, “We don’t want you to throw that, we want you to work on your three pitches and get comfortable with one delivery with those three pitches.” Then this offseason, they said they’d take a look at the cutter and see what it looks like. I got some good feedback from it in spring training, so I’m going to continue to throw it and refine it and make it the best that it can be.

MH: How do you plan on using that pitch specifically?
KW: A lot to lefties. It’s a good first pitch, because a lot of times a lefty will see the spin and just take it right down the middle. Obviously, later in counts or if I’m behind in counts, I can throw it in on their hands and a lot of times what I’ve noticed is I get a ground ball out of it. So it’s definitely a good double play-ball pitch.

MH: On the subject of your arsenal, tell me more about your other pitches. Specifically, how much would you say you use your two-seam fastball versus your four?
KW: I would say probably about 80-20. (The two-seamer) is definitely my main pitch, my best pitch. When that pitch is on, I know it’s usually going to be a pretty good day. If it’s not on, like I said, it’s just one of those things where you have to find it. You have to get to the point where it’s good enough to work, and then you can work in your other pitches and get through the outing while putting your team in a position to win the ballgame.

MH: What about the change-up and curveball? Are you working on the change-up, is that something that’s a focus?
KW: Every pitch is always something that needs to be worked on all the time. Every time I pick up a baseball, I try to throw all four of the pitches. I’m more comfortable obviously with change-up and curveball than the cutter just because I’ve thrown them a lot more in the past few years. A lot of times, you’ll go out for a start and have three out of the four pitches, sometimes you’ll have two out of the four pitches. But whatever it is that day, you really have to understand it, accept it, and then make it work so that you can get your team somewhat close in the ballgame by the time the relievers come in, and then its [innings] 7-8-9 that matter. That’s where you win ballgames.

MH: Being on the verge of making it to the majors, do you ever get frustrated looking up at the major league rotation, knowing that its pretty full possibly for years to come?
KW: No, you can’t even bother yourself with issues like that. Boston’s always had a great roster up there and they always will. That can’t affect the way we play down here. That’s completely out of our control and as long as you’re playing well, you’re going to get your chance somewhere down the line. Who knows when, but that’s not an issue that any of us should be concerned with, because you’ll end up just driving yourself crazy.

MH: On that subject, have you had any discussions or thoughts on transitioning to a relief role in the near future?
KW: You know, there hasn’t been too much discussion on that. Everything I’ve heard from the Red Sox is that I’ll continue to start. I’m sure down the line if something calls for me to go to the bullpen, then that’s what definitely is going to happen, and I’ve had experience there from college. I know a little bit about it, obviously not at the professional level, but that will just be another thing to learn and that’s not something that would be a hard adjustment, I don’t imagine. I would have no issues with it.

MH: Can you name a current or past teammate that has impressed you over the years?
KW: I would say David Phelps. He was my teammate at Notre Dame and he pitches for the Yankees. I got to see him pitch professionally for the first time last year in the Eastern League. He was really impressive, the same pitcher as when I saw him his sophomore year in college when he put up like a 1.50 ERA (ed.’s note: 1.88 ERA). He got bumped up to Triple-A last year and I’m sure we’ll be seeing him a lot this year.

MH: Lastly, do you have any hobbies away from the field?
KW: I play a lot of guitar.
MH: Seems like a common theme.
KW: Yeah, we have a lot of time on our hands, so that’s something I’ve picked up.
MH: You and the other players ever jam together?
KW: You know, I have, but not on this team yet. Daniel Nava’s a really good guitar player. I know Lars [Anderson] plays a lot. But we have to schedule something, because that would be a good time to get a few of us together, because there’s definitely more than just us three.

[I play] golf, occasionally—very occasionally. A lot of video games—a lot of us play Xbox, Call of Duty. Just your typical stuff.