Pawtucket Red Sox pitching coach Rich Sauveur realizes Triple-A rookie Beau Vaughan is trying to become a member of a very select group: a relief pitcher that succeeds at the major league level while throwing with a sidearm delivery.
“Guys like Dan Quisenberry, Kent Tekulve and Dennis Eckersley had a great deal of success,” said Sauveur. “But for every (sidearm reliever) you can name that made it you probably can name 10 that didn’t. These guys (all of the above, including Vaughan, are right-handers) just have to be able to get out lefties. They’re tough against righties. But lefties see the ball really well against guys that drop down.
“It’s not that you have to bust every lefthander inside, because if a lefthander can turn on a ball, you want to pitch him away. It depends on their weaknesses. That determines how you want to pitch a guy. It’s a matter of changing speeds and throwing strikes which is the biggest thing about pitching.”
Vaughan, who was Boston’s third-round pick in the 2003 draft, had thrown with a three-quarter-arm delivery for most of his career — even after he was converted from a starter to a reliever in 2006.
While his stats as a reliever were respectable they didn’t exactly jump off the page — until this year at Portland.
“I fooled around with it on the side (in early May) while playing catch and it felt more comfortable,” related the 6-4, 230-pound Vaughan. “The more I did it and the lower I got the more comfortable it became.
“I may give up two or three miles in velocity but I’ve added movement. My fastball sinks and runs and I can throw it for strikes. At the end of the day, I liked the stuff I could throw from down there and my arm was healthy.”
So were his stats with the Sea Dogs.
In 39 relief appearances, he was 2-1 with 16 saves (coupled with his one Pawtucket save, Vaughan leads all Boston minor league pitchers in this department), a 2.12 ERA replete with only 38 hits and 18 walks plus 55 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings.
Vaughan, who was voted to the North Division Team for the Eastern League All-Star Game, was promoted to Pawtucket on August 8 and that same night earned a win in his Triple-A debut by tossing a scoreless inning in a 6-5 victory over Charlotte.
Despite the success he’s enjoyed with a lower arm slot, he has zero regrets about not making the change sooner.
“It was something I did out of necessity early in the year because it was so much easier and less taxing on my arm,” he said.
“It was something I had to do. In retrospect, I realized I wasn’t where I wanted to be.
“Being a reliever and having to pitch on random days, you need to feel good. Anything that creates less strain on your arm is good. I found I had the best results when I was dropping down.”
Along with a fastball and a changeup, Vaughan throws what Sauveur rates as a “just below average major league slider.”
“It needs a little more depth,” explained Sauveur. “When he gets on top of the ball that gives it depth - it has more of an angle going down. I’ve told him the key is his staying on top when he’s coming through the zone.
“But what’s good about Beau is he’s very positive on the mound and has an aggressive attitude. At this level, it looks like he hasn’t changed a bit.”
Good point because numerous minor league pitchers have changed their routine when promoted and have wound up pitching themselves out of baseball.
“When you come up from Double A to this level, it’s a big jump because you’ve got good hitters in this league - guys that have been to the big leagues and guys that are on the brink of going to the big leagues,” said Sauveur. “When you’re doing well at the Double-A level, there isn’t much you should change, especially when you’ve had success at where you’ve been.
“Beau has three pitches he can throw for strikes. We’re not afraid to bring him in a game in any situation.”
The 27-year-old Vaughan is in a situation where it took him 5 ½ years just to reach the Triple-A level.
Should that be a reason for concern?
“I don’t think that means anything,” said Sauveur. “First off, it shows the kid’s will to make it. You can see the kid has a lot of heart — the will to make it — and wants to pitch in the major leagues. I love the attitude he has.
“Some guys spend more time in the minors than others. But I think if he does well the rest of the year and comes back here next year, he’s going to have an opportunity to get to the big leagues next year at some time.”
Vaughan, for his part, has set a high standard and isn’t about to be deterred because it’s taken him this long to reach Triple-A.
“When you talk about 5 ½ years, for most guys they’re in the big leagues by then,” he said. “But everybody has a different journey. I’m happy with the one I’ve had up to this point and by no means is it over. I’m ready to push on through. It’s part of the challenge.
“No kid growing up or no kid in high school says ‘Hey, you know what? I want to be a phenomenal Triple-A pitcher.’
Everybody wants to be a big league pitcher, and on top of that, you want to be a good big league pitcher.
“Whatever level I’ve been at,” continued Vaughan, “I take the attitude I don’t like to lose. I get frustrated when I give up runs. But when you’re in this business, you have to strive to be the best. If you’re okay with not being the best, then you have no business being in baseball.”