Last April he was the unknown reliever, pitching in Class A. Like any minor leaguer, Bobby Poyner enjoyed it when a major league player made a rehab assignment with his team because tradition calls for the big leaguer to pay for the postgame meal.
This April, Poyner is the one writing the check, supplying barbecue ribs for the clubhouse.
“Funny how fast that changes,” he said.
Poyner, 25, made a rehab appearance Thursday with his old team, the Portland Sea Dogs. Recovering from a strained left hamstring muscle, Poyner pitched a scoreless first inning, allowing a leadoff single before calling it a day at Hadlock Field.
“Felt good,” Poyner said, giving the key answer to his appearance.
Except for this minor hamstring setback, Poyner has felt good for some time. He’s a major league pitcher waiting to get back to the hottest team in baseball, the Boston Red Sox.
“I’m excited,” he said. “Get healthy and get back, and try to win some games.
Poyner was promoted to Double-A Portland last June, still under the radar.
When you think of top prospects, you don’t consider a 14th-round draft pick — the seventh player and fourth pitcher taken from the University of Florida in 2015. Like several four-year college players, Poyner had little leverage in negotiations and accepted a $10,000 signing bonus. (The top Gators pitcher, Eric Hanhold, went in the sixth round and got a $250,000 bonus.)
And, to a layman’s eyes, Poyner looked average with a fastball that rarely touched 90 mph.
But Poyner had a few tangibles on his side. He was a left-hander with a deceptive fastball — which plays well high in the strike zone — and a plus-plus change-up. And he showed the moxie to challenge hitters.
Poyner dominated in Portland last summer with a 0.94 ERA and 0.78 WHIP over 27 games. At Hadlock, scouts debated Poyner’s future because he didn’t have “stuff.”
While we wondered how Poyner would do in Triple-A Pawtucket, he was invited to major league spring training camp — and made the Red Sox Opening Day roster.
The only lefty in the Boston bullpen, Poyner has made six appearances over seven innings with a 2.57 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP. Left-handers are batting .182 against him.
Poyner got the win in the home opener, pitching blanks over the 11th and 12th innings in a 3-2 victory over Tampa Bay.
A week later he was on the disabled list.
That brought Poyner to Portland this week. He worked out — and bought the postgame spread — on Wednesday, then started Thursday’s game. He began with three 87 mph fastballs, the third lined softly to left field for a single by Garrett Hampson.
Mixing in his change-up, Poyner got Brendan Rodgers to pop up for the first out.
Poyner began the left-handed hitting Sam Hilliard with a slider for a called strike — but Hampson stole second. On the next pitch, a change-up, Hampson stole third.
“He’s a good baserunner,” Poyner said. “I gave him a quick look (at second base). It looked like he was looking away, and he got me.”
Hampson, who is 9 of 9 in stolen-base attempts, at least gave Poyner a jam to work out of.
Poyner fell behind 3-1 to the power-hitting Hilliard, and came with two sliders — for a swinging strike, and a foul ball. Hilliard struck out looking at an 88 mph fastball.
Brian Mundell then popped up on a change-up to end the inning.
Poyner threw 19 pitches, 12 for strikes.
“Just trying to establish strikes,” Poyner said. “Pitch in with my fastball and continue to pitch up.”
Poyner now waits to find out if his rehab continues in Pawtucket, or if he rejoins Boston.