Schreiber brings boosted confidence to old stomping grounds
LAKELAND, Fla. -- With a nearly three-hour drive separating the Red Sox's and Tigers' Spring Training ballparks, meetups between the two teams are an infrequent occurrence. For most Boston players who made the trip to Lakeland, Fla., on Tuesday, that meant wading into slightly unfamiliar territory as they navigated around Publix Field before their game with the Tigers.
But for one pitcher, the trip was a return to the all too familiar.
Red Sox right-hander John Schreiber spent plenty of springs in Lakeland, beginning in 2017 after he was selected by the Tigers in the 15th round of the prior Draft. He returned on Tuesday in a much different place in his baseball journey; not as an unsure reliever looking to gain his footing in the big leagues, but as a bona fide member of the Red Sox pitching staff -- and arguably manager Alex Cora’s most reliable bullpen arm.
This was not the career path he appeared to be on years earlier. The most compelling part of Schreiber’s story back then was that the Tigers, the team he grew up rooting for as a kid in Gibraltar, Mich., took a chance on him and developed him into a big league pitcher -- with results that gave little indication he was going to stick. By the time the Tigers designated Schreiber for assignment before Spring Training in 2021, the pitcher’s collective ERA was 6.28, his WHIP 1.50.
Then things changed, quickly.
“When I debuted here [with Detroit], I didn’t have the confidence I do now,” Schreiber said prior to Boston's 6-2 loss to the Tigers. “The staff did everything here for me that they could do. Learning, mechanics-wise, I loved everything the staff did. Anywhere you go, you’re always going to have new ears and new advice. You just gather all that information and try to make the best of it.”
Working with Sox Triple-A pitching coach Paul Abbott beginning in 2021, Schreiber began to flourish. The sidearmer widened his pitch arsenal, increased his workload between outings and gained strength, which translated into an uptick in velocity. His fastball that normally hovered in the low 90s slowly increased, averaging nearly 94 mph last season.
Schreiber opened the 2022 season with Triple-A Worcester, but Cora knew it was temporary. The pitcher missed the cut in the same manner as many young players in their pre-arbitration years, a victim not of stats but of roster circumstance.
Cora knew Schreiber would be back soon, and he was a month into the season.
“Going into Spring Training, he was one of our best pitchers,” Cora said. “It just happened, the numbers didn’t match up with the roster. But we knew that at one point he was going to be up, and he was going to stay. We just needed to be patient.”
In almost every scenario, when it really mattered, Schreiber got the ball as Boston's best late-inning option.
“He earned his right to pitch in the eighth and ninth last year,” Cora said.
Over 64 appearances and 65 innings for the Red Sox in 2022, Schreiber posted a 2.22 ERA, a 0.98 WHIP and struck out 74. In innings seven through nine, he held opponents to a .198 batting average.
“A month in, I started to really realize Cora was starting to trust me,” Schreiber said. “It helped me boost my confidence even more. I really appreciate all the trust he put in me last year, helped me grow as a pitcher and learned some more things. How to deal with pressure.”
Things are different for Schreiber this Spring Training. It’s not so much about proving himself than it is working toward a repeat performance. That starts with using the exhibition season in veteran fashion -- fine-tuning the arsenal he’ll be relying on when the season revs up in a couple weeks.
His outing on Tuesday in Lakeland suggested he still has some work to do -- he yielded a pair of hits and a walk, and Cora noted after the game that the right-hander is not quite where he was last year in terms of consistently throwing strikes.
But the big-picture plan is for Schreiber to pick up where he left off early last October. Schreiber said he’s working hard to stay mechanically exactly where he was last year. Cora, noting Schreiber’s laser-focused preparation, has no doubts about what he’ll see from his prized reliever this year.
“There’s intent in everything he does. There’s passion with him in everything he does,” Cora said. “You can’t find that in metrics, but there’s something in intent and passion and conviction. He put himself in this spot because of who he is.”