If spring training were any indication, the Boston Red Sox were set to try Elmont native Keith Couch out as a reliever.
It is often said that baseball is an unpredictable game and Couch’s 2015 season to date is a testament to that statement.
Stuck behind several of baseball’s top pitching prospects in the Red Sox farm system, Couch, who spent the previous two seasons in AA, looked to finally be carving out a possible niche.
But the injury bug is changing the course of his season.
Couch is finally a full-time AAA player and not dealing with health issues at the moment. But at the start of the season, injuries to Red Sox starting pitcher Joe Kelly and PawSox pitcher Edwin Escobar opened up a door for Couch.
That door led to a spot in the Pawtucket Red Sox (Boston Red Sox AAA affiliate) starting rotation.
The 25-year-old is 4-8 with a 5.59 ERA in 18 appearances (16 starts). His two relief appearances weren’t relief in the traditional sense so much as they were “piggyback starts.” He logged 11 innings total between those outings.
“It’s been kind of a humbling experience this year,” he said. “I’m learning to trust myself and not give guys too much credit just because guys are big names and what not.”
Couch closed the door to the first half of the season strong, earning a win. He allowed just two runs in six innings while striking out three to help his PawSox top the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Philadelphia Phillies AAA affiliate) 7-2.
Playing alongside former All-Stars and World Series champs, Couch is one of the few players on the PawSox without a full season of AAA ball under his belt.
In his first season just one rung below the majors, Couch isn’t a standout. But he is still learning.
“I’m just trying to trust myself and go after hitters,” he said. “Instead of giving guys too much credit and letting them hit it. I haven’t been putting myself in a great position to succeed.
“It’s definitely been a tough year. I went to the Fall League the past two years so the body’s not 100 percent, but no excuses—you’ve got to go out there and perform to the best of your abilities no matter what.”
Couch cites fatigue as his biggest issue—the long bus rides and grueling schedule he and his International League team endure. From Rhode Island, the team travels as far west as Indianapolis, Ind. and as far south as Gwinnett, GA.
If the rotation doesn’t work out in the next few seasons, Couch takes comfort knowing he would still be a viable relief prospect. He made 14 relief appearances for the Portland Sea Dogs in 2013 before working his way into the team’s rotation.
Even though he is a starter at the moment, Couch wouldn’t rule out a switch to the bullpen if it hastens the pace of his Minor League progression.
“I don’t even care,” he said. “Whatever it takes, I’d to it.”
Born and raised on Long Island, Couch graduated from Holy Trinity Diocesan High School in Hicksville and attended Adelphi University in Garden City. Although he bled Yankee blue growing up, he would be content making his big league debut with a rival organization.
“No, not at all,” he said when asked if it would be strange to make his big league debut in Boston. “Just making it to the big leagues is the dream no matter where it is.”
During the last home series of the first half, Couch had something to look forward to away from the diamond.
“I’m going home for the All-Star break,” he added. “So that will be cool. I get to go home for three days and relax and then I get back into it.
“It’s always nice coming home. It’ll be a mental refresher.”