To say Zach Stewart made a favorable impression in his first start for the Pawtucket Red Sox would be like saying The Green Monster is painted, oh, green.
Stewart, who was acquired from the White Sox in the trade for Kevin Youkilis, came up big Wednesday night as the PawSox snapped a nine-game losing streak by beating the Charlotte Knights, 5-1.
The 25-year-old right-handed worked 5 2/3 innings and allowed one run on six hits replete with zero walks and four strikeouts. He threw 57 of 81 pitches for strikes and, during one stretch, retired 12 consecutive Knights on a mere 31 pitches.
“Maybe we should put stock in first impressions because he was pretty impressive,” said PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler. “He pounded the zone. He’s a big league pitcher so there’s a reason why he was in the big leagues. (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.
“He showed that tonight. He mixed his pitches very well … three good pitches. He worked ahead of hitters and kept them off-balance. He showed a pretty good feel for locating stuff and being able to finish guys and get them out.”
Stewart sandwiched a strikeout and a flyout around a Tyler Kuhn single in the sixth. But consecutive singles by Conor Jackson and Dallas McPherson prompted Beyeler to yank Stewart in favor of Will Inman.
“We really don’t know him too well yet,” Beyeler said of his decision to remove Stewart. “He’s being converted. He’s been a reliever and he’s going to start now. Until we get to know him we don’t want to run him up there too much. We want to work his way in until he’s comfortable.
“But, yes, I think he was getting tired later. Yet he did a nice job and got us deep into the game and showed he can pitch a little bit.”
Stewart had spent all of this season with the White Sox and compiled a 1-2 record with an inflated 6.00 ERA in 18 games (one start).
A third-round pick of the Reds in the 2008 draft, Stewart’s compiled an 18-14 record with a 3.07 ERA in 101 career minor league games (57 starts) while pitching in the farm systems of the Reds, Blue Jays and White Sox. But his major league career mark, with Toronto and the ChiSox only is 2-7 with a 5.92 ERA.
“I’ve been in that role before,” said Stewart. “I was relieving since the first of the year. But having the experience of a starter in the past helped me out tonight … just going back out there and getting back into that routine.”
Stewart’s “routine” consisted of working quickly and throwing strikes. “My game plan basically is throwing a lot of sinkers and trying to get guys to get themselves out early and save the pitch count,” said Stewart. “Tonight was one of those nights where my stuff was working for me and I got them out on their front foot a few times and just got them to put the ball in play.”
The fact Stewart has flipped between starting and relieving did require a mental adjustment of sorts. “It’s a little bit of a change at first,” he said. “But knowing when you have to go out there and face guys two or three times throughout the lineup – maybe even four depending on how long you go – requires you to have more of a game plan going into it … thinking about what pitches you’re going to use and how you’re going to set up guys.
“As a reliever, you have to have your stuff working but you just come in and go at guys. I guess that’s the main difference for me.”