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Pitching Coach Kevin Walker: “This Year The Red Sox Aren’t Afraid to Ask for Arms”

Kevin Walker, Photo Credit: Louriann Mardo-Zayat
Kevin Walker, Photo Credit: Louriann Mardo-Zayat

The PawSox take on Scranton Wilkes Barre Tuesday, July 2nd and Wednesday, July 3rd at 6:00pm ET on YurView, Cox channels 4 and 1004 in Rhode Island.

In a season where injuries and inconsistency have forced the Boston Red Sox to patch up their pitching staff, the organization continues to summon a continuous stream of reinforcements from its friendly Triple-A affiliate.

Enter PawSox pitching coach Kevin Walker, the man who’s presided over this constantly moving conveyor belt. With three months of the 2019 season just about in the books, Pawtucket has already used 27 different pitchers. For comparison’s sake, last year’s ballclub called upon 30 pitchers all season.

The lengthy list includes eight PawSox pitchers who have already logged innings for the parent club: Marcus Walden, Erasmo Ramirez, Bobby Poyner, Travis Lakins, Josh Smith, Ryan Weber, Josh Taylor and Mike Shawaryn. The Red Sox needed to add Smith, Weber and Shawaryn to the 40-man roster, while Lakins, Taylor and Shawaryn have made their MLB debuts.

Recently, Walker sat down for an in-depth Q&A session that addressed all the comings and goings, plus his thoughts on several pitchers. Considering the busy times that continue to engulf the PawSox clubhouse, I consider myself fortunate that Walker was able to spare a few minutes so he could share his thoughts …

Brendan McGair: The season isn’t even three months old and four of the five pitchers who opened the campaign as members of Pawtucket’s starting rotation have gone on to pitch for the Red Sox. From a personal standpoint, is that a source of pride?

Kevin Walker: Our main goal here is to provide quality depth for the major-league level. The guys who are here are either veteran guys who are trying to get to the big leagues and continue their careers, or they’re first timers who are looking to get themselves on the radar. Overall, I think this year more than anything is showing that the Red Sox aren’t afraid to ask for arms. We’ve had a lot of guys go up there and it’s been great.

Kevin Walker with PawSox pitcher Tyler Thornburg
Kevin Walker with PawSox pitcher Tyler Thornburg, Photo Credit: Louriann Mardo-Zayat

BM: Let’s go back to last year when former PawSox manager Kevin Boles gave you the duty of informing Jalen Beeks that he was being called up to Boston. You worked with Beeks in Portland and again in Pawtucket. How special a moment was that for you?

KW: That was great because (Beeks, who these days is with Tampa Bay) was the first guy I personally got to tell that he was heading to the big leagues. We had a special relationship and he’s such a special kid. For Bolesy to give me that honor is something I’ll never forget. That’s what is great about this job. You get to tell guys that their dream is about to be fulfilled.

BM: Going back to this season, we’ve seen Trevor Kelley emerge as one of the most dependable arms in Pawtucket’s bullpen. What has stood out when watching the submarine-throwing right-hander?

KW: His delivery and arm slot … it’s a very different look. It’s a three-quarter slot and not a lot of guys throw from down there. He’s been consistent in what he does, which is a big thing. He doesn’t try to be something he’s not. He’s commanded three pitches really well.

BM: With all the movement taking place this year, how do you think you’ve done in terms of keeping things on an even keel and maintaining a program that allows the PawSox pitchers to remain on-target while remaining cognizant of what’s going on up top?

KW: A lot of these guys see the big picture. They watch Red Sox games when we’re not playing and they keep an eye on what’s going on. They all know. If you’re performing well at a certain time and you’re on the radar … I think that’s the carrot for all these guys. You don’t want to get stagnant down here. At any time, the Red Sox could have an extra-inning game, or an injury could happen, and they’re on the radar to get called up. That carrot of knowing you’re one phone call away keeps these guys focused.

BM: Mike Shawaryn was a starting pitcher for the PawSox. Since his summons to Boston, he’s found value as a long reliever. From your vantage point, how rewarding has it been to see Shawaryn adapt on the fly?

KW: I’m happy to see him succeed but it also shows the flexibility that these guys have … to being a starter his entire professional career to becoming a reliever and asked to throw multiple innings or sometimes on back-to-back days. To be able to adapt shows what he’s all about, but it also shows they’re willing to succeed and do whatever it takes to help the ballclub. That’s the true key.

BM: Teddy Stankiewicz struggled in his lone start with the PawSox last year. This year, he’s emerged as one of the team’s most dependable starters. In your estimation, what has been the key to his transformation?

KW: Teddy has really worked on refining his cutter and slider. His fastball has been a pitch that he’s always been able to go to, but to be able to get his cutter and slider to a point where both pitches are more consistent … he’s executing and making much better pitches. Another pitch that’s helped him get outs is his split finger against lefties.

BM: What are the early returns on Red Sox pitching prospect Darwinzon Hernandez after his first two starts in a PawSox uniform?

KW: It’s a special arm. Not many lefthanders have that kind of arm and that kind of breaking ball. Just like anybody else, it’s about commanding the strike zone a little bit better and letting your stuff play rather than pitching around the zone. More so than anything with young guys like him, it’s about getting reps. He’s got a bright future. Right now it’s about taking it one day at a time.

BM: As the pitching coach, how important is it to have a strong working relationship with the catchers? Going a step further, how has it been working with Oscar Hernandez and Juan Centeno this season?

KW: Both of those guys have been great. They’re like an extra set of eyes on the field. Sometimes, it’s like I have an extra pitching coach. They’re really able to slow things down and see things that they can nip in the bud without me having to make a mound visit. They’re great when working with the pitchers in the bullpen. They’re also great with communication and great with game-planning and advanced scouting reports before games. They’re really smart and dedicated to their craft.

Kevin Walker
Kevin Walker, Photo Credit: Louriann Mardo-Zayat

BM: Steven Wright was recently with the PawSox for a rehab assignment. Since his primary pitch is the knuckleball, what are some of the things you look for to make sure his bread-and-butter remains on target?

KW: When he was with us, he would talk about certain things that he feels with his motion and would like me to look at. He knows his body so well. If he’s pulling off or keeping his elbow just a little bit up … he gives me the keys to look for. More so than anything, it’s also about seeing the spin on the knuckler. If it doesn’t spin, that means it’s great. Just having that communication with Steven allowed me to see certain things.

BM: You’re a native of Texas. How neat was it to see fellow Longhorn State native Roger Clemens at McCoy Stadium last week for his induction into the PawSox Hall of Fame?

KW: Growing up, Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens were the tall Texas studs that all young pitchers looked up to. I really want to thank (PawSox hitting coach) Rich Gedman. I didn’t get to meet him before the game because I was watching the starter warm up in the bullpen. Rich walked Clemens down to the bullpen so I could meet him and get a picture with him. That really made my day.

BM: You’re in your second year as the primary overseer of the Pawtucket pitching staff. How much more comfortable do you feel after discarding your Triple-A rookie tag?

KW: Last year was my first taste of really having to be in-tune with the major-league team every day … knowing when to hold a pitcher out based on how the game is going on up there. It’s just about staying on top of everything and being flexible and adaptable on a daily basis because anything can happen, but I definitely feel more comfortable.

The PawSox take on Scranton Wilkes Barre Tuesday, July 2nd and Wednesday, July 3rd at 6:00pm ET on YurView, Cox channels 4 and 1004 in Rhode Island.