Stepping Up For The Sox

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Keith Couch on the verge of making ‘The Show’

It’s tough to make a bigger impact in a Triple-A debut then Keith Couch did. On Sept. 12, he pitched the Pawtucket Red Sox to the league championship by throwing 6.2 innings, allowing only one single hit, in what was his first start in three weeks.

“That game was the most fun I’ve had playing baseball even though it was at a high stage,” said the 24-year-old. He continued, “because of the loose clubhouse and the fact that my dad was able to attend the game. After pitching in that game against current and former big league talent, I know I am ready for the next level,” he said.

Making it to the next rung of his professional ascent would be a tremendous accomplishment for Couch, a graduate of Adelphi University and native of Mineola. After getting selected in the 13th round of the 2010 MLB draft, he has steadily risen through the minor league system.

This season was arguably his best to date. He compiled an 8-2 record while pitching for Double-A Portland. In 106.2 innings he accrued a 2.78 ERA with 78 strikeouts. His ERA dropped nearly a run from the previous season.

“My plan this year was to try and establish my two-seam fastball and let the movement create a lot of ground ball contact—you can’t get hurt with the ball on the ground,” he said. His ability to locate the two-seam fastball also kept the ball from leaving the yard with any frequency, he allowed only seven home runs. He also displayed solid control by only walking 22 batters.

The prospect of Couch advancing through the Red Sox system and reaching the big leagues is now more realistic than ever. After the Red Sox won the World Series in 2013, it looked like there would need to be a couple of injuries or trades in order for it to occur. The latter occurred, when Boston dealt away ace Jon Lester and back-of-the-rotation starter Felix Dobrount at the trade deadline. That opened up the possibility of an in-house candidate stepping up.

It still is no guarantee, according to Couch, who feels the Boston minor league system is as talented as ever.

“This system is loaded and finally guys who were, and are, teammates, are getting their chance to perform at the major league level and it’s exciting to see them get their opportunity because I stood on the same mound as them and played against the same teams,” he said.

There’s no doubt 2015 will be a crucial year for the Floral Park High School alum. He proved that he has graduated from Double-A and should begin the season with Pawtucket. With that brings new obstacles that all minor league players need to adjust to immediately. For pitchers, one of the biggest challenges is getting comfortable throwing to a new catcher.

“It’s not difficult to form a relationship after a few days of bullpens. The catchers are the best minds in the game so they know how to attack batters and how my strengths play against them,” he said.

It is clear that Couch is genuine when he says that his high-level performance in the Triple-A game was due in part to working in part with a new catcher, Ryan Lavarnaway, who has big league experience.

“We were on the same page from pitch one. You just have to trust your stuff and use the suggestions the catcher is putting down. In the end, it’s your game. You have to throw what you’re most comfortable with,” he said.

It seems as if Couch has been rather comfortable during his five-year minor league career. He has won 38 games with a 3.49 ERA and has struck out 3.4 batters for every walk.

“At this point, my career has gone better than anyone could have imagined,” said Couch. “I’m still not happy until I make it to the big leagues and that is my ultimate goal every year but more so in 2015 because it’s so close I can taste it,” he added.

He gives all his credit to Portland pitching coach Bob Kipper, who was a relief pitcher with the Red Sox from 1985-1992.

“He really helped take my game to the next level,” said Couch. “His big thing is that everyone at this level has the physical skills but the separator is the mental side of the game on how to attack hitters and read swings,” he added.

Couch noted that his confidence and mechanics are also crucial for him because of Kipper’s guidance.

Despite not receiving nearly as much acclaim in high school as some others have, Couch is on the verge of achieving what very few baseball players have. The fact that he was born and raised on Long Island and achieved success the right way will make it that much easier to appreciate his rise to the top.

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