A strong start from the 24-year-old Weiland in the 1:35 p.m. ET matchup at Fenway could give the Sox some modicum of comfort about their banged-up rotation heading into the All-Star break, with Sunday their final contest of a four-game set with the Orioles before the time off.
The 6-foot-4 Weiland was drafted by Boston in the third round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Notre Dame. His progression has been steady, from short-season Class A Lowell that year, to High Class A Salem in '09 and then Double-A Portland last year. He's been strong all season, but really turned it on June, when he posted a 2.36 ERA in six outings.
Relying on a low 90s fastball, as well as a curveball, changeup and a newly added cutter, the former college closer has struck out 99 in 93 innings while walking just 37. The question surrounding Weiland before the Draft was whether he profiled better as a starter or reliever, but the Sox have been committed to keeping him a starter.
"He throws hard. He's got a live arm -- he always has," Francona said when asked about the strikeout numbers. "He's starting to command, he's competing and he's starting to mature as a pitcher. That happens. Sometimes it's at different rates, but he's always had a good arm."
Weiland made three appearances in Grapefruit League games this spring, allowing six runs in 5 1/3 innings, and was also part of the 2010 Red Sox Rookie Program, so he's not walking into a situation he's totally unfamiliar with.
"Now that it's time for him to pitch, he won't be introducing himself to everybody," Francona said. "I'm sure he'll have butterflies and he'll be nervous, but guys know who he is, our catchers have caught him."
Weiland is not yet on the 40-man roster and his contract will need to be officially selected, but the Sox have a space available after Mike Cameron was designated for assignment. A move to put Weiland on the 25-man roster, like potentially optioning right-hander Scott Atchison, will also need to be made.
Alfredo Aceves was the other logical choice to start on Sunday besides Weiland.
"We certainly could have," Francona said of starting Aceves for a fifth time. "The way our bullpen is situated, he gives us such a luxury of pitching short, pitching long. He may start again sometime but this Weiland is lined up, he's been pretty hot. We'd like to send him out there and see how he does."
If Lester can return as quickly as expected from a strained left latissimus and no other starters get hurt, the Sox won't need Weiland too long. Asked, though, if he'd be comfortable with an extended look at Weiland, Francona said, "We need five starters, so we'll see."