Tacoma Rainiers manager Pat Listach doesn’t quite know what the future will hold for right-hander Ryan Weber.
Right now, Weber is an essential part of Tacoma’s starting rotation, allowing only one run in four appearances and three starts so far.
But the 26-year-old Florida native has spent his entire minor league and big league careers going back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen, and could prove valuable in that swing role as the season progresses.
He seems to have little preference between them.
“The way I look at it,” Weber said prior to Tacoma’s Monday night game against the Sacramento River Cats, “an out in the first inning is the same as an out in the seventh inning.”
Though Weber has yet to pitch more than 5 2/3 innings or throw more than 73 pitches in a game, he has been as effective as Listach could have reasonably hoped. Consider that entering Monday’s game against Sacramento, there were 33 pitchers who had appeared in at least one game in the Pacific Coast League this season without walking a batter. Only eight of those had started at least one game. Weber is the only one who has started three. And he is also the only one who has pitched more than 11 innings.
In fact, Weber has pitched 18 2/3 consecutive innings without a walk to begin this season. He also began the year with 16 consecutive scoreless innings before finally surrendering a single run in his previous start, a 2-1 Rainiers’ victory over Sacramento on Friday.
As a result, Weber sports a 1-0 record with a 0.48 earned-run average and a walks-and-hits-per-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio of 0.54, which leads all qualified PCL pitchers, with 13 strikeouts.
He credits this success to an improved sinker, along with simply commanding his fastball and throwing strikes.
“They’ve been swinging and putting the ball on the ground early,” Weber said.
Claimed off waivers by the Mariners in November, Weber spent the first eight seasons of his professional career in the Atlanta Braves organization, making his MLB debut in September 2015 before appearing in 16 games — with two starts — for the Braves in 2016.
In 21 appearances and seven starts in the big leagues, Weber has a 1-4 record with a 5.15 ERA in 64 2/3 innings pitched. It’s difficult to say what his role might be in the coming months.
“I don’t know,” Listach said. “He’s throwing so good starting right now. He’s always been that swing man. We had a conversation about it, and I asked him where he felt most comfortable, and he said he’s always been that guy who’s been in the bullpen and been able to go in and make a spot start.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s a chance he goes back to the bullpen. There’s a chance he stays in the rotation for the time being.”