Rangers' Joe Wieland In Command For Myrtle Beach




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Joe Wieland is not one to back down.

The 21-year-old righthander doesn't fall behind in the count very often, but when he does, he's not one to nibble.

"I think with Joe, the stars have really lined up," Myrtle Beach pitching coach Brad Holman said. "The approach we take as a staff—I've never been a big advocate of talking to guys about not walking hitters. I talk about attacking hitters. Joe has taken that to the nth degree. He seldom gets to a three-ball count, let alone a base on balls."

Wieland simply doesn't let hitters jog to first base. He's walked four batters in 78 innings, including a 60-inning walkless streak that stretched from a start against Winston-Salem on April 18 to another start against Winston-Salem on June 7. For a pitcher who had a 4.03 ERA in three previous minor league seasons, his 6-3, 2.10 mark this year is quite notable. Last year, he gave up a 5.19 ERA and a .283 average against after his promotion to high Class A Bakersfield.

"He's just obviously matured. Pitching in the Cal League for one is an eye-opener," Holman said. "It has given him a little bit more understanding of what a quality pitch is and how important a quality pitch is. He's done a great job of keeping the ball down in the zone.

"A big key for him is to keep the ball down in the zone. He takes a lot of pride in eliminating the walks. He takes a lot of pride in controlling the running game. Sometimes to a fault. He sometimes gets too quick. When he's at the knees, he's a completely different pitcher than when he's pitching at the thighs and waist."

Just as importantly, he's added a slider. The new pitch is the best explanation for his walkless streak. In the past, he was a fastball/curveball pitcher who mixed in the occasional changeup. But the slider has quickly proven to be effectively two pitches. If he gets behind in the count, he has shown the ability to locate it for strikes, and if he gets ahead in the count, he can work it down and out of the zone to get hitters to chase.

"That's the nice thing about the slider, it's as easy for him to throw for strikes as his fastball," Holman said.

Wieland still pitches primarily off his 88-92 mph fastball and his curveball is his best secondary pitch, but the slider has given him a legitimate third pitch.

"His fastball is his predominant pitch and his curveball is a putaway option. But now he has a slider he can throw for strikes whenever he wants. The sllider is above the changeup now. He can throw it for strikes and create action on it with tilt and depth. It tends to find the bottom of the bat. His changeup, it's a useable pitch, but it isn't consistent."

Wieland has plenty of prospect company in the Pelicans' rotation. A pair of starters have already been promoted. Lefthander Robbie Erlin jumped up to Double-A while Opening Day starter Neil Ramirez skipped over Double-A to Triple-A to become one of the surprise stories of the Rangers' farm system this year.

But that still leaves Robbie Ross and Barrett Loux alongside Wieland in the Pelicans' rotation. And according to Holman, Wilfredo Boscan is also showing signs of figuring things out. Boscan ranked 11th on a deep Rangers' list back in 2009, but his status has slipped in recent years as he struggled with consistency and his curveball.

"I think he got into some habits where his lower half wasn't incorporated into the pitch. He was standing straight up and letting his hips open instead of getting a hip load and shoulder load," Holman said.

Boscan now is using his lower half, and he's managing to come more directly to the plate instead of spinning off the mound. That's resulted in better location, and even when he misses, he now misses high or low instead of inside or out (which often leaves the ball over the plate). And it gives Boscan better deception because the hand stays behind the body longer.

Boscan is 1-0, 3.00 with 16 strikeouts in 18 innings this month. And like Wieland, he's not one to give in. He's walked only one batter in each of his last three starts.