Zach Stewart is a classic example of a hurler who’s pitching better than his statistics would indicate.
Stewart, a 25-year-old right-hander, was acquired from the Chicago White Sox in the June 25 trade for Kevin Youkilis, was 3-5 with a 3.94 ERA in his first 11 starts for the Pawtucket Red Sox (replete with 42 strikeouts and only 14 walks in 59 1/3 innings). But in 10 of those starts, Stewart had allowed three runs or less. And in seven starts he had allowed two runs or less.
Perhaps the best indication of why Stewart’s been a victim of a lack of run support came in an August 23 game at Charlotte.
Stewart worked seven effective innings and allowed only two runs on four hits (zero walks and four strikeouts). But he came out on the short end of a 2-1 game because his teammates managed only five hits off Charlotte pitchers. Unfortunately for Stewart, he wasn’t as effective when he was called up by Boston to start against the Angels last Wednesday night, and was rocked for nine runs in a 10-3 loss.
To his credit, Stewart hasn’t shown an inclination to smash a water cooler or trash Pawtucket’s clubhouse.
“I’m happy with the way I’ve pitched,” he said. “In baseball, a lot of times there are ups and downs and things happen that are out of your control, especially being a pitcher. It all evens out in the end for me. I try not to read too much into it.
“For me, it’s about consistency. As long as you go out and do what you’re supposed to do on every day when you’re given the ball and told to go out there and throw, as long as you stay as even keel as possible and stay as consistent as possible, that’s how I try to take it.
“I try not to do too much,” continued Stewart. “I try not to look too much into stats. As long as I go out and have a good outing and feel like I’ve had some positives or I improved on something, then I’m happy with it.”
PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur is happy with what he’s seen of Stewart.
“He’s thrown the ball well for us,” said Sauveur. “I think he’s been a pleasant surprise for me, not knowing who he was or what he was all about. The command of all of his pitches is what’s really impressed me. He’s able to locate his fastball to hitters when he wants to. He can elevate balls when he wants to. His changeup has been a good pitch for him but his command (of it) is a little inconsistent. But his main pitch that he’s worked on and improved a ton is his slider.”
When it comes to being consistent, Sauveur pointed out a key to making that happen.
“What I love about his act is all of his pitches come out of the same arm slot,” said Sauveur. “He doesn’t change anything. That’s why he’s tough to hit sometimes. He’s already pitched in the big leagues and is trying to get back to the big leagues. I think he will at some point.”
That’s an interesting point considering Boston is Stewart’s fourth organization. He was a third-round pick of the Reds in the 2008 draft but was traded to Toronto 1 ½ years later in the Scott Rolen deal. Then, he was traded to the White Sox on July 27, 2011 for Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen. Prior to his start against the Angles, Stewart’s overall major league record with the Blue Jays and White Sox was 2-7 with a 5.92 ERA.
“He had established himself at the Triple-A level,” said PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler. “I know he was in the big leagues. But we built him up because I know he was pitching out of the bullpen in Chicago. We built him up slowly.
“I think he’s a starter and has the ability to start in the big leagues (Stewart also has pitched extensively in relief). He has the stuff to pitch in the big leagues.
“There’s a reason why he was in the big leagues,” continued Beyeler. “(The White Sox) have a good organization with good pitching. For him to be able to compete and get a big league job shows he’s doing something right.”
The fact Stewart has been traded for high-quality players should be an example that various organizations see value in his right arm.
“I don’t think it’s that people have given up on him,” said Sauveur. “I think people want him which is why his name comes up. I think the White Sox were going to have to give up something pretty good for what they got. It wasn’t going to be some kid in A ball who hasn’t done anything. For Kevin Youkilis, you’re going to have to give something pretty good. I honestly think this kid has something to show.”
In Stewart’s opinion, being traded for the aforementioned players has more positives than negatives.
“It’s one of those situations when you get traded it’s a good thing because somebody wants you,” he said. “To be traded for those guys definitely is a positive, knowing the caliber of player that they are.
“It obviously means somebody has some kind of stock in you if they think that highly of you to trade a guy like that.”
Baseball America thought so highly of Stewart that it rated him Toronto’s No. 1 prospect entering the 2010 season and he Blue Jays’ No. 5 prospect one year later.
“I always take (a trade) as a positive,” reiterated Stewart. “But it’s bittersweet because you lose friends and guys you’ve battled with for however long it’s been. You don’t want to walk away from those guys. But at the same time, there’s a grass-is-greener-on-the-other side type of thing. There’s somebody that wants you and has a plan for you. You take that as a positive. For somebody to give up a player like Scott Rolen or Kevin Youkilis or Mark Teahen or Edwin Jackson, the guys I’ve been traded for, you have to take it as a positive for somebody to want you that badly to give up guys that are that caliber of player.
“What also comes into play is figuring out teams’ philosophies,” continued Stewart. “And not even just baseball philosophies but a lot of strength and conditioning, training and shoulder programs. At first (with Pawtucket) I was mixing and matching this and that with other organizations. But that’s part of it, just remembering what you have to do and what team you’re on.
“Because this is the third time I’ve been traded,” continued Stewart, I’m a little more used to adapting. But the first couple of times it was difficult.”
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