With a little more than a week remaining in Spring Training, Red Sox pitching prospect Pat Light was informed his role was about to change.
After making 49 starts over his first three seasons since Boston selected him 37th overall in the 2012 Draft, the 6-foot-5 right-hander was going to the bullpen.
Soon after an encouraging meeting with Boston brass, Light got his first taste of relieving in two stints with the big club, which went well enough to pump up the former first-rounder's confidence as he entered his first season in Double-A.
"It was interesting, but they threw me right into the mix in a big league game like a day or two days after they told me I was going to be a reliever, and I had some success out there," said Light. "A combination of that and them being excited about what was going on just gave me the jump-start I needed to get me going and keep me confident, instead of getting discouraged that I was being demoted or something like that."
His first time through the bullpen doors for Portland was a less-than-memorable experience for Light, who allowed three earned runs, three hits and two walks in two innings versus Reading.
Three days later he rebounded, striking out four New Britain Rock Cats over two scoreless innings, giving him comfort in his new role and allowing him a quicker turnaround time to erase a rough outing.
"Getting back out there quick is good," said Light. "You don't have much time to think about it -- the next day you got to make sure you get your arm as ready as possible and then for the following day. I like it."
Now Light is in a full-on groove as a relief pitcher, allowing just one run over his last nine appearances, a span in which he struck out 14 and gave up just two hits and three walks over 11 2/3 innings, picking up his first Double-A win and first professional save in the process.
Being able to concentrate his best fastball-slider combo over a tighter period has allowed his pitches to play up better than they ever have in his career and has allowed him to slip his tricky slider by unsuspecting batters.
"I don't think it's any secret that my fastball is playing a little better and I'm throwing a little bit harder," said Light, whose heat registers in the high 90s. "That splitter has come a long way. Those two pitches have been really big for me."
Light is now getting to use those pitches in key situations as well, something that has allowed him to regain some joy in the art of pitching.
In earning his first win, he was tasked with facing New Britain's Trevor Story, who Light admits is "arguably the best hitter in the league right now," with runners on second and third and one out and came out on top.
"It was nice to have that," said Light of his first Double-A win. "[Pitching coach Kevin] Walker came out and I thought he was going to tell me to walk [Story]. He just told me to go after him with my best stuff. I wanted to gas him up. So I went after him and struck him out on a 2-2 splitter."
In the wake of a dominating run out of the 'pen, that was that moment that brought things full circle in Light's transformation to a new role.
"It was a blast," said Light. "I haven't had fun like that pitching in a long time. That was fun out there. It was good to have that back."
Cycle rides: Portland's Tim Roberson was able to complete the cycle last Friday against New Britain, but there were a handful of others that fell just short. In the same game that Roberson accomplished the feat, New Britain's Pat Valaika came up a triple shy. Earlier in the week, Trenton's Gary Sanchez also fell shy by a three-bagger, as did Richmond's Mac Williamson on Sunday. Portland's Jantzen Witte almost gave the Sea Dogs back-to-back games with cycles, but he wasn't able to get a double Saturday.
Hit parade: Through 34 games Eric Jagielo, the Yankees' No. 8 prospect, has gone without a hit in only nine and has yet to go hitless in back-to-back appearances. The Trenton third basemen, fifth in the league with 25 RBIs, has driven in a run in 17 games and has himself crossed the plate in 22. Jagielo is tied for the league lead with seven home runs and is tied for second with 12 doubles.
Nothing for free: A pair of Bowie arms, Terry Doyle and Ben Rowen, have logged 39 combined innings without allowing a walk. Doyle has started one game and come out of the pen in five others while all of Rowan's 11 appearances have been in relief. As a whole, the entire Bowie staff has allowed 121 walks in 37 games while striking out a league best 301 batters.
Craig Forde is a contributor for MiLB.com.