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August 15, 2013 at 6:42 PM

After unexpected trade, Brayan Villarreal impresses in PawSox debut

PAWTUCKET, R.I. — The Pawtucket Red Sox activated Brayan Villarreal from the disabled list Wednesday, and so began a new chapter for the 26-year-old right-handed reliever — a chapter he is very much looking forward to.

He pitched a scoreless eighth inning in a 6-5 win over the Louisville Bats (CIN), working around a hit and a walk while striking out one. His fastball reached 97 mph.

“It’s an explosive fastball,” Pawtucket manager Gary DiSarcina said. “It’s a power arm. I don’t think he got a chance to throw many sliders, but he is what we saw in Toledo — a very exciting arm.”

Villarreal came to the Red Sox in the Jake Peavy deal on July 30 after spending eight years in the Detroit Tigers organization. He was on the DL when the trade went down — a mid-July fall in the shower resulted in a right thumb sprain — and was not expecting a move.

As the final 24 hours before the trade deadline ticked away, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski called Villarreal, who was home for the night following the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens’ home game that evening. A phone call from Red Sox GM Ben Cherington followed shortly thereafter.

The sudden switch caught him off guard.

“But I was happy,” Villarreal said. “It’s something new, and Boston is a great team. It’s awesome, I love it.”

Villarreal welcomes the changes of scenery — and what a change of scenery it is.

Half a month ago, he was in Toledo, Ohio, toiling in the minors after what had been an apparent breakout 2012 campaign in the Tigers’ bullpen. Now, he’s fresh off the DL in a brand new organization.

That 2012 season featured Villarreal posting a 2.63 ERA and 1.21 WHIP while striking out 66 and walking 28 in 54 2/3 major league innings, most of them coming late in games. His electric four-seamer regularly reached the high 90s, and a devastating slider touched 90.

But while playing in the Venezuelan Winter League during the offseason, Villarreal suffered from right elbow inflammation, he said. That delayed his regular winter-months workouts, and when this season started, his fastball was sitting in the mid-90s more than Villarreal was used to.

The results — at least, in the majors — were disastrous. He allowed 10 runs in 4 1/3 innings over the course of seven April games before being demoted to Triple-A.

With Toledo, Villarreal got somewhat back on track with a 3.15 ERA and 1.51 WHIP, numbers that don’t quite match what he did in the big leagues last year. Although he will need to very much cut down on his 6.8 walks per nine innings to be consistently effective, Villarreal’s rate of nearly 11 strikeouts per nine instills confidence.

Improving his command is a continued point of emphasis, according to Villarreal.

“I’m a power pitcher. I just have to throw strikes, and when I’m throwing strikes I know I can get outs — easy outs, light outs,” Villarreal said. “That’s what I’ve been working on, that’s what I’ve been doing.

“I just want to go back to the big leagues and do my job, so that way they can get to know me. When I start pitching good, maybe they’ll pick me.”

Photo credit: Brayan Villarreal by Kelly O'Connor.

Tim Healey is a staff writer for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @timbhealey.