TORONTO — It had been two years since Ryan Weber last started a major league game. But the Red Sox needed somebody to face the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday afternoon and didn’t want to risk Hector Velazquez being unable to get out of the first inning again.
Manager Alex Cora set modest goals before the game, saying he hoped Weber would last four or five innings.
The 28-year-old righthander did much better than that. He allowed one run over six innings in a game the Sox won, 8-2.
Weber gave up three hits and struck out four without a walk. Of his 93 pitches, one reached 90 miles per hour but he worked the sides of the strike zone effectively with four pitches.
“He was amazing,” Cora said.
Weber didn’t learn until Wednesday that he was starting, not that it really mattered. He signed a minor league contract with the Sox in December knowing that his role would be undefined.
“I told them I would start, relieve, whatever they needed,” he said. “It’s the Red Sox, so I was happy to get the chance. It was a no-brainer.”
Weber grew up in Florida but his mother, Mary, is from Boston and the Sox were one of the teams he followed as a kid.
Weber was invited to spring training but reassigned to minor league camp on March 18. He pitched well for Triple-A Pawtucket and was called up on May 6 when David Price went on the injured list.
He has since pitched in four games for them and allowed two runs over 14 innings.
“This has all been great,” Weber said.
In an era where many pitchers rely on velocity and work the strike zone vertically against hitters trying to get the ball in the air, Weber goes east and west and changes speeds.
“It’s different,” Cora said. “A little bit of old school. We’re very pleased with the way he went about it.”
That was part of what attracted the Sox to sign Weber despite a 1-5 record and 5.01 ERA in 24 games with the Braves, Mariners and Rays. As Cora said, he’s a pitcher in the best sense of the word. The radar gun doesn’t matter to him.
Weber’s biggest challenge was in the second inning. With a run in and runners on second and third, he retired Billy McKinney on a fly ball to right field, Dan Jansen on a popup to second base and Jonathan Davis on a grounder to third.
With Mookie Betts in the lineup as the DH, Cora played Jackie Bradley Jr. in right field and the Jays did not challenge his arm on McKinney’s fly ball.
“It could have gone either way there,” Weber said.
It wasn’t until after the game that Weber realized his previous big league start, on May 13, 2017, also was at Rogers Centre. But he left that game in the fourth inning with nerve damage in his arm and didn’t pitch again the rest of the season.
“My nerve got stretched out and my whole arm went numb,” Weber said. “It was a freak accident, a freak injury. I threw a pitch and I felt it. It felt like I got shot. A total freak thing.”
Weber’s performance should resonate for several days. The Sox had used their bullpen for 26⅓ innings in the previous five games and Weber’s six innings were needed. It allowed Cora to give Matt Barnes and Brandon Workman a day off ahead of Friday night’s game at Houston.
Now the Sox have won four of five and have Chris Sale, Price and Eduardo Rodriguez lined up for the Astros.
Over the course of a long season, games that are successfully pieced together are what lead to long-term success. Weber will probably be up and down the minors over the next few months, but what he did Thursday mattered.
“We’re going to have days like that,” Cora said. “We knew coming into the game we needed to score some runs. It didn’t look pretty for a while there. But then at the end we were able to add on.
“These are the games that set you up for the rest of the week.”
The Sox don’t have another day off until June 3, so Weber could remain in the rotation for another few starts. Maybe he’ll get more than a day to prepare next time.
“It’s fine, whatever they want,” he said. “I’m glad to be on this team.”