Red Sox prospect Ward turns on the heat in Fall League
MESA, Ariz. -- Thad Ward may be known best for his slider, but his fastball stood out in his first Arizona Fall League start.
Ward went 4 2/3 innings and struck out seven as the Scottsdale Scorpions cruised to a 12-5 victory, their second win over the Mesa Solar Sox in the first two days of the developmental circuit's season. The Red Sox right-hander operated mostly at 91-94 mph with his two-seamer but located it well and notched all seven of his whiffs with his second-best pitch.
"The fastball was working well," Ward said. "I think a lot of it was due to mixing in a lot of sliders in early to try to get them off of that and then beating them with the fastball. My catcher, Andy [Thomas of the Giants], did a really good job of calling pitches and made sure we mixed it up pretty well so we didn't get predictable. It just worked out that way."
Ward's go-to pitch is an 81-85 mph slider with late bite that he can both land for strikes or get hitters to chase out of the zone. To make the jump from Double-A, where he finished this season, he says he knows he'll have to continue to refine his fastball command and improve his changeup.
After the Red Sox signed Ward out of Central Florida as a fifth-round pick in 2018, he converted from college reliever to pro starter and won the organization's Minor League pitcher of the year award in his first full season. But he barely pitched in the next two years because of the pandemic shutdown in 2020 and Tommy John surgery after two Double-A starts in 2021.
Boston's No. 15 prospect returned to the mound this July and posted a 2.28 ERA with 66 strikeouts in 51 1/3 innings across four levels. He didn't allow a run in his first four outings but said it took a while for him to become confident that he had fully regained his previous stuff.
"There were glimmers where I thought, 'OK, now I'm fully back,' and then there'd be an outing or two where I didn't feel quite as good," Ward said. "So it's been a little bit of back and forth. It took a little bit to where I finally felt like myself again up on the mound and not having to make some adjustments and I could just compete."
Ward could make it to the Majors at some point in 2023, but that wouldn't be the first time he has worn a Red Sox uniform in a big league dugout. He grew up in Fort Myers, Fla., the club's Spring Training home, and served as a batboy for the team. Current Boston manager Alex Cora and coach Jason Varitek played for the Red Sox during Ward's batboy days, though he says he hasn't tried to talk to either of them about his past.
Center fielder Luis Matos (the Giants' No. 3 prospect) powered Scottsdale by going 2-for-5 with four RBIs -- two on a 361-foot homer to left off right-hander Jorge Mercedes (Marlins) in the fifth inning. DH Nick Yorke (Red Sox No. 4) and right fielder Heston Kjerstad (Orioles No. 9) drove in two runs each in a Scorpions attack that featured more walks (12) than hits (eight). First baseman Niko Kavadas (Red Sox No. 21) and Kyren Paris (Angels No. 20) drew three free passes apiece.
Cubs corner outfielders provided most of Mesa's offense. Brennen Davis (MLB No. 48) hammered a rare Ward mistake for a two-run homer that traveled 390 feet in the third inning, and 10th-ranked Chicago prospect Owen Caissie drilled a two-run double in the ninth.
Solar Sox starter Mason Miller (Athletics No. 20) repeatedly reached triple digits with his fastball and topped out at 102 mph, but he also battled the strike zone. He issued two walks and plunked a batter, allowing a hit and three runs before departing after 1 2/3 innings.