Weiland aims to seize opportunity with Astros
Boasting 95-mph fastball, righty looks to win rotation job in camp
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- They were yearning for somewhere greener, warmer and closer to his native New Mexico. That's what prompted Kyle Weiland and his wife, Rachel, to pull out a map and search for a new place to live, far away from the Ohio winters. Florida sounded great, but the couple was eventually wooed by the beauty of Austin, Texas.
Fast-forward one week, when Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington called Weiland and told him he had been traded to Houston, a mere 150 miles from Austin. Turns out the state of Texas was going to be his new home year-round. A change of scenery had also come with a world of opportunity.
Weiland, acquired by the Astros on Dec. 14 along with Jed Lowrie in exchange for pitcher Mark Melancon, finds himself among a group of promising young arms trying to crack the Astros' rotation. He brings a 6-foot-4 frame, a live right arm and the experience of having been thrown in the pennant-race fire last September for the Red Sox.
"The more I looked into [the trade] and everything that's going on here, the more exciting it became to be a part of it," Weiland said.
What's going on in Houston is a massive rebuilding project, in which there are few veterans players around to block talented youngsters from winning jobs at the Major League level. The Astros would love for Weiland, 25, to seize that opportunity this spring.
"First of all, he's a bright kid and a real competitor," Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "I saw him when he was an amateur at Notre Dame. He's got a good arm. I talked to a lot of people in the Boston system before and after we made the trade, and [the Red Sox] had no choice to bring him up last year. It might have been a little bit premature, but he's very close to being ready. For us, it was a great opportunity to get a young arm like that, that can be a starter and be a part of our future plans."
Weiland, a former closer at Notre Dame, has electric stuff that includes a 95-mph fastball that has been his go-to pitch. Weiland uses the fastball to get early outs, and last year he added a cutter to go along with his curve and change. The cutter helped him against lefties, who batted only .202 against him last year in Triple-A.
"I worked with Kyle the first day I came in," Astros pitching coach Doug Brocail said. "I got to see some pretty impressive stuff. He pitches downhill, has a good leverage point. The ball moves a little more than I thought it would off a guy that throws so hard. It was good stuff."
Drafted by the Red Sox in the third round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, Weiland made a steady rise through Boston's farm system. He spent most of last year at Triple-A Pawtucket, going 8-10 with a 3.58 ERA in 24 starts. Weiland became the first Red Sox pitcher in history to get ejected in his Major League debut when he was tossed after hitting Vladimir Guerrero on July 10 after benches had been warned.
With the Red Sox's rotation in tatters last September -- Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka didn't pitch after June, Erik Bedard was hurt in July and Josh Beckett sprained his right ankle in early September -- Weiland was called up again and started three games. He lost all three as Boston blew a nine-game lead in the American League Wild Card race in an epic collapse.
Weiland was 0-3 with a 7.66 ERA in seven games (five starts) for the Red Sox last year, including going 0-2 with a 9.26 ERA in three September starts.
"It was a good feeling to get the ball and know that they trusted you to pitch well and give them a chance to win," Weiland said. "I think that was a big confidence booster. At the same time, I think I stepped out of my element a little bit and tried to be somebody I wasn't instead of the pitcher I was all year in Triple-A. It's a mistake that's easily made."
It was a big stage that was full of pressure. Perhaps it was too much pressure for a 24-year-old who had made his Major League debut only two months earlier.
"Obviously, things could have gone better," Weiland said. "But it was definitely a learning process, and I couldn't have learned more while I was up there. I'll take everything I learned and go from there."
Working on the back fields at Osceola County Stadium, Weiland is a long way from the intense glare of a pennant race. The Astros aren't expected to contend in the National League this season, a year that will be more about development of players and setting the foundation for the future than wins and losses.
In many ways, Houston is the perfect situation for Weiland, both on the field and off.
"It's exciting to be part of something new," he said. "I know when you're rebuilding, it's a process and it doesn't happen overnight, so I can't look at last season like, 'Oh, wow, I'm going to a team that lost 106 games.' I know there's a lot of exciting things gone on and a lot of exciting guys here and a lot of talent. It will be a competitive spring."