TRENTON, NJ - It seems like just last year Tyler Webb was wearing a number 38 for the University of…
He appeared in 110 games, setting a program record at the University of South Carolina. He helped lead the Gamecocks to their only two national championships in 2010 and 2011. He struck out 182 hitters and eventually earned third-team All-America honors as a senior.
“There were some big games I pitched in,” Webb said of his time in Columbia. “Lots of good guys and lots of competition. It helped me a lot.”
That much is evident, as Webb is quickly scurrying up the New York organizational ladder.
The left-hander began the season in class-A Tampa, where he pitched in only eight games before moving north to Trenton. Then, about two weeks ago, he got the call to Triple-A, where he is now in the midst of his most dominant stretch this season.
After firing one and one-third scoreless innings against Gwinnett on July 30, Webb hasn’t allowed a run in his last six appearances. Not to mention, International League hitters are swinging at a scant .161 clip against the former tenth round pick.
And while hopping among three different teams in one season might be a huge challenge for some, Webb is taking it all in stride.
“I was a little surprised,” he said of his promotion to Scranton. “Tried to take it one day at a time in Trenton and Tampa too. Nothing really changes. Yeah, it’s a new team and a couple new guys, but you’re still just trying to get better.”
It helps that Webb is used to change.
First, there was Tommy John surgery, which he underwent prior to his freshman campaign with South Carolina. Surprisingly, though, Webb said his rehab didn’t faze him as much as one might expect. Other than minor changes to limit the stress on his arm, nothing really changed.
Much of that stems from his resilient nature, something he has brought with him to the RailRiders clubhouse.
“They bring a lot of energy because they’re one step closer to the big leagues,” SWB manager Dave Miley said of Webb and the other young relievers that have cycled through PNC Field this season. “You’re always comfortable putting them out there.”
But Webb’s bigger adjustment came over the next two years, as he moved to the bullpen. The original plan was to have him start on weekends, but his struggles forced the team to try something different. Luckily, he excelled in his new role, aided by his mental toughness on the mound in tight situations.
More important than his compete level, though, is his arsenal of pitches. Webb’s fastball routinely sits in the low 90s, but can spike to 95 mph in the heat of battle. He complements the heater with a changeup and slurving bender that, when mixed well enough, can befuddle batters.
Webb doesn’t see himself as an overpowering pitcher, although his strikeout totals suggest otherwise. Scouts saw him as a finesse hurler, but he doesn’t necessarily place himself in that category either.
All he cares about is making smart pitches at the right time.
“If they strike out, they strike out,” Webb said, “and if they don’t, they don’t. As long as it’s an out, I don’t really care.”
That ability is nothing new to current RailRiders starting pitcher Matt Tracy, who befriended Webb in Trenton and joined him as an Eastern League All-Star Game representative this season. After seeing the young Virginian average nearly 13 strikeouts per nine innings in Double-A, Tracy said nothing has changed since their promotions.
“He’s really just able to throw a ton of strikes,” Tracy said. “He’s got a fastball that guys just can’t seem to hit, so it’s been a lot of fun watching him.”
After fanning eight batters over his previous four appearances, Webb has established himself as a flagship middle-reliever, something that has eluded SWB in 2014.
This might surprise some, given that Webb particularly excelled in the closer role at South Carolina and with the Thunder to a degree. But just as he did after his surgery and at the college level, the former Gamecock adapted for the better.
Now, he’s one step away from the Bronx, and his mindset remains exactly the same.
“Learn from the coaches and the other guys that have been here longer,” Webb said. “There’s always something to work on. You can never perfect your craft.”
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