August 14, 2012 at 9:28 AM
WILMINGTON, Del. --- A day after Salem used four relievers, including spot starter Manny Rivera, in suffering a 9-1 beating, right-hander Keith Couch gave his team the consistent, steady start they’ve come to expect from him in Salem’s 2-1 loss to Wilmington (KC) Saturday night.
“That’s a manager’s dream, that on those tough days, knowing tomorrow, I’ve got Keith Couch, a guy that you know will give you innings, give you length, and give you a chance to win a ballgame every night,” Salem pitching coach Kevin Walker said after the game. “He pitches when you give him the ball and goes out and competes hard. He’s the ultimate competitor. He’s going to go out and give you everything he’s got.”
On another night, everything Couch had may have been enough to pick up a win, but a Salem lineup that has been decimated by promotions this month was unable to put enough runs across to reward his effort. Couch allowed two runs on six hits in five innings of work, striking out four and walking two, but took the hard-luck loss.
Still, Couch showed a good mix of pitches and filled up the strike zone in the outing. Couch’s sinking fastball sat 88-91 mph, and he kept hitters off balance with a low 80s changeup and slider and a 75-77 mph curveball.
Couch opened the game by freezing leadoff batter Orlando Calixte on a slider for a called third strike, and after a walk and a lineout, picked up his second punch-out of the game on a tight 76 mph curveball.
The Blue Rocks opened the second with a pair of singles, one well-hit and the other a blooper, put picked up his third strikeout—and first of the swinging variety—on a 90 mph sinker in the dirt. Couch ultimately got out of the inning unscathed with a pair of groundouts.
In the third, after Salem catcher Carson Blair crushed his second home run of the season to dead-center field in the top half of the frame, Couch allowed three hits and a walk to let Wilmington level the score. In this inning, Couch was again dinked and dunked by the Blue Rocks. Couch retired the side in order in the fourth, and continued to use all of his pitches to keep Wilmington off balance.
“It’s good, because it’s just in their mind that I can throw everything at any time,” Couch said, noting that he’s faced Wilmington five times this season, including his last two starts.
But in the top of the fifth, Couch threw a handful of pitches he regretted after the game. With one out, Couch dragged his arm and hit center fielder Brett Eibner in the back with a changeup. Eibner advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored when Couch hung a slider to right fielder Lane Adams.
“Those are the two pitches I want back,” he said. In 24 appearances (18 starts) this season, Couch is 8-9 with a 3.75 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 120 innings pitched.
With Brandon Workman now in Portland, Couch and Miguel Celestino are the only starters that remain from Salem’s opening-day rotation, although Couch has pitched in the bullpen when needed. Walker said that between playing with those promoted teammates and spending time with pitchers like Matt Barnes, Couch has “extra motivation… to prove people wrong, to prove that he can pitch in the big leagues.
“He’s got the stuff, got the heart and determination,” Walker said. “If he keeps learning and keeps developing, he’s got a chance to pitch at the major league level.”
Though not the most heralded player on the pitching staff, Couch offers his team consistency every fifth day, something Walker said doesn’t go unnoticed in the organization.
“At the major-league level, those guys are valuable, but the other thing that’s valuable about Keith is that he can do it all,” Walker said. “He showed it this year, he’s a hybrid type guy. He can start, he can relieve, he can give you whatever you need.”
Jon Meoli is a Senior Columnist for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonMeoli.