PAWTUCKET — Danny Runzler might be this year’s Ryan Brasier, a hard-throwing reliever with a unique backstory.
The temptation to draw parallels between last year’s feel-good tale for the Red Sox and Runzler grew even louder on Sunday afternoon after the PawSox rallied in the late innings to knock off Syracuse, 7-5.
A lefty with 97 games of major-league experience under his belt, Runzler was summoned to pitch the eighth inning after Pawtucket scored three times in the bottom of the seventh to take the lead. Touching 95 miles per hour and featuring a wipeout slider, the 34-year-old Runzler wasn’t at all fazed after issuing a leadoff walk. He rebounded to strike out two of the next three Mets batters. Syracuse was extinguished in the eighth was retired after Runzler threw 19 pitches (11 strikes).
“It was a two-run game in the eighth, a scenario I’ve been used to a lot,” said Runzler afterwards. “You get that adrenaline popping and things like a good crowd get you going … I felt I could let it go and have some fun out there.”
It certainly wasn’t fun for Syracuse leadoff hitter and onetime Red Sox contributor Rajai Davis, who represented the tying run when came to the plate with two down in the eighth. Davis had homered earlier in the game but quickly fell behind against Runzler before striking out swinging.
The confrontation against a proven big leaguer (Davis) was a key spot, one where Runzler’s powerful arsenal was on full display.
“That’s what I was known for,” said Runzler, harking back to a time earlier in his pro career when he was a bullpen contributor for San Francisco.
Sunday’s scoreless outing marks the sixth consecutive time that Runzler has not allowed a run since returning from the injured list on May 17 after dealing with a nagging left leg/groin injury that kept on Pawtucket’s injured list for just over three weeks. On the season, he has a 1.76 ERA in 11 games, while holding hitters to a .211 batting average.
“It was cold earlier in the year and I’m certainly not going to make excuses, but when I felt like I was ready to come back, I was ready to start rolling,” said Runzler. “As the weather heats up and your arm starts to get into shape, I’m hoping I can sustain what I’ve been doing lately.
“At this point, you take outs anyway you can get them,” Runzler continued, “but you like to see the crispness of the stuff. If it’s coming out with a little bit extra on it, it’s a good transition I think.”
Runzler’s walk totals to date are a tad high – 10 in 15.1 innings, compared to 13 strikeouts – yet it’s easy to fall in love with the idea that the next Ryan Brasier is under Boston’s nose, especially when taking into account the road he’s traveled to get to this point.
It was around this time last year when Brasier started to make a name for himself as the saves in a PawSox uniform began piling up with great regularity. By the end of June 2018, Brasier was named an International League All-Star. By the MLB All-Star break, Brasier was up with the parent club and never looked back en route to becoming a trustworthy option for a club that captured the World Series in bulldozing fashion.
The Brasier narrative is one that Runzler definitely appreciates. Like Brasier’s well-documented stint in Japan and triumphant return to the United States, Runzler veered off the MLB grid but held out hope that a team would give him another shot. In 2018, Runzler pitched exclusively with the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Independent Atlantic League and proved quite successful – 2.81 ERA with 58 strikeouts in 48 innings that spanned 53 games.
Runzler’s big-league track record has yet to expand since appearing in eight games for Pittsburgh in 2017. The bulk of his career has been spent with San Francisco, the team that drafted him in the ninth round back in 2007. Runzler pitched parts of four seasons with the Giants, his best season coming in 2010 for a World Series winner (3.03 ERA in 41 games).
Nearly a decade later, Runzler is doing his best to catch Boston’s fancy at a time when confidence isn’t exactly radiating from the Red Sox bullpen. Listed at 6-foot-5, the southpaw cuts an imposing figure on the mound – International League lefties are hitting just .180 against him.
“In my heart, I knew my stuff was still good enough to get guys out,” said Runzler. “Nowadays, the game is getting younger and I’m not trying to date myself, but 34 years old, opportunities are a little bit less than they used to be.
“But to be part of an organization like the Red Sox that isn’t afraid to plug guys in … if you’re pitching well, all you can ask for is an opportunity,” he added. “That’s what it has felt like since I signed here.”
When the Sox inked Runzler as a minor-league free agent a few weeks before spring training, the tale of Brasier was explained in depth.
“Gus (Quattlebaum, Red Sox Vice President of Professional Scouting) was big about (Brasier) and how that was a big find for them … a guy nobody really knew about, then he made himself well known,” said Runzler. “They said that’s something I could possibly do if I pitch well. It just seemed like they had confidence in me from the get-go.”
Red Sox scout Tim Huff checked out Runzler at a showcase that was held near his offseason home in Arizona. Originally, it was supposed to last two days.
“Huff said ‘If I can get you to sign, can you not throw the second day?’ I said, ‘Yes, let’s do it,’” said Runzler.
As far as Runzler is aware, he doesn’t have any opt-out dates written in his contract.
“At this age, the fact I’m getting an opportunity … I’m happy I’m here,” said Runzler. “Hopefully I can keep throwing the ball well and stay healthy.”
If Runzler keeps on nailing down outs with the PawSox, it’s difficult to imagine him anything but the 2019 version of Ryan Brasier – from relative unknown to a reliever that Boston manager Alex Cora can’t live without.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03