ATLANTA — John Schreiber played at the University of Northwestern Ohio, an NAIA school that also had a stock car racing team.
A baseball hotbed it was not. But the Racers — they really do like their cars at UNOH — were the first program to offer him a scholarship and that was all Schreiber needed to hear after a year of playing at Henry Ford Junior College.
“I jumped on it right away,” he said.
That was six years ago and Schreiber remains the only player in school history to make it to the major leagues. He may be there for a while, too.
It’s not a particularly high bar to clear, but Schreiber has been one of the most effective pitchers in the Red Sox bullpen this season.
The 28-year-old righthander has appeared in six games and worked seven scoreless innings, allowing only three hits and striking out six without a walk.
Schreiber was perfect for two innings in Tuesday night’s 9-4 victory against the Braves, earning his first career save. The team presented him with an authenticated game ball afterward.
“That’s going to be on display in my house,” Schreiber said Wednesday. “It took a long time to get that ball.”
The Red Sox claimed Schreiber off waivers from the Tigers during spring training in 2021, believing his sidearm delivery offered a useful variation from their other righthanded relievers.
Simply put, many pitchers work up and down to combat launch-angled swings. They throw fastballs up in the strike zone and breaking balls down.
Schreiber works side to side with a slider, a four-seam fastball, and a sinker.
“A sidearm sinker like he has is nasty,” catcher Christian Vázquez said. “He’s been good for us.”
Schreiber’s also aggressive, throwing 69 percent of his pitches for strikes.
“He attacks hitters,” manager Alex Cora said.
Schreiber pitched well in Triple A last season but appeared in only one major league game. He opened this season in Worcester and was added to the roster on April 25 when the Sox placed unvaccinated Kutter Crawford and Tanner Houck on the restricted list before a series in Toronto.
Schreiber was returned to Worcester on April 29 and was back with the Sox on May 6 when Rich Hill was placed on the COVID injured list.
Hill is expected back soon. But somebody else should be going back to Worcester this time.
“He’s given us a big lift,” Cora said of Schreiber.
A native of Wyandotte, Mich., Schreiber grew up a Tigers fan and was rooting like crazy for Detroit against the Sox in the 2013 American League Championship Series.
So much so that he woke up his parents yelling at the television when David Ortiz hit his famed grand slam in the eighth inning of Game 2.
“I was such a Tigers fan,” Schreiber said. “That was hard to watch.”
Schreiber appeared in 28 games for the Tigers from 2019-20 and had a 6.28 earned run average. When he was designated for assignment, the Red Sox had him on their radar.
Triple A pitching coach Paul Abbott cleaned up Schreiber’s mechanics and improved his fastball velocity from 90-91 miles per hour to 92-93. That’s not a huge jump but enough of one to make a difference. Schreiber also embraced working harder in the weight room according to the strength and conditioning staff.
“These [new] guys, we don’t know much about them, about work habits,” Cora said. “It’s night and day compared to last year.”
Said Schreiber: “It didn’t take too long to adjust to a new team. All the guys were awesome. They work hard on helping you improve. It’s been good for me.”
If baseball didn’t work out, Schreiber’s backup plan was to be an accountant and he’s still planning to go back and finish his degree.
That will have to wait. The Red Sox need bullpen help and Schreiber has been reliable. He entered Wednesday night’s game in the eighth inning and got two big outs.
“All you want is opportunity,” Schreiber said. “They’ve given me one and I’m trying to make the most of it.”