By David Willis
LOWELL — It was just over two years ago that Kason Gabbard was a fan-favorite for the Boston Red Sox, then became the centerpiece of a trade for a former Cy Young winner.
But for the better part of July and August this season, Gabbard called LeLacheur Park's mound home.
The once promising Sox and Texas Rangers lefthander is currently working to resurrect his career, spending more than a month with the Single-A Lowell Spinners before recently being promoted to Double-A Portland.
"When he got back from Texas his delivery and mechanics were a mess," said Spinners manager Gary DiSarcina. "His fastball was inconsistent, his delivery was inconsistent and he wasn't finishing his fastball. But he has progressed."
Gabbard was drafted by the Red Sox in the 29th round in 2000, and spent six seasons working through Boston's minor league system.
On July 21, 2006, after Tim Wakefield was placed on the disabled list, Gabbard was promoted to Boston. He appeared in seven games, four starts, going a 1-3 with an impressive 3.51 ERA.
He opened the 2007 season at Pawtucket, but was once again summoned to Boston when ace Curt Schilling was placed on the DL. And Gabbard did not disappoint.
In seven starts for the Sox, he was 4-0 with a 3.73 ERA, including a complete-game, three-hit shutout against Kansas City and allowing one run and three hits over seven innings against the Chicago White Sox.
But Gabbard's career was thrown into turmoil when, on July 31, 2007 he was traded along with minor league outfielder David Murphy to the Texas Rangers for closer Eric Gagne, who was then sporting a 2.16 ERA with 16 saves.
"The trade was shocking because it happened so fast," said Gabbard. "Being traded is part of the business. I just had to go out and pitch a couple days later."
He was immediately placed into the Rangers rotation, and in his first five starts went 2-1 with a 3.86 ERA. But in his final two starts of the season, he allowed a combined 12 earned runs in just 10 innings.
It was no better for in 2008. In 12 starts he was 2-3 with a 4.82 ERA, allowing 64 hits in 56 innings. He was then demoted to Double-A. He opened 2009 spring training with Texas, but after one appearance was optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma.
Then, on April 23, Gabbard was sent back to the Red Sox organization for cash considerations.
"I was ecstatic to be traded back to Boston," said Gabbard. "I was spoiled coming up through the Sox system. I don't think my family believed me at first."
His return was hardly smooth sailing. First assigned to Portland, Gabbard allowed a whopping 16 earned runs in just 7 1/3 innings.
The 27-year-old was then demoted to Lowell.
"We tried to give him confidence in his fastball and straighten out his delivery," said DiSarcina. "When he got to us he was bouncing a lot of fastballs in front of the plate. We wanted him to pitch to contact and trust his stuff."
After a so-so first appearance, Gabbard found his groove and won his two final starts with Lowell, not allowing an earned run in 11 innings in August. In five total starts, he allowed just six earned runs in 21 1/3 innings. He went 2-1 with a 2.53 ERA although he did have 15 walks.
"He progressed with each outing," said DiSarcina. "When he first got here he had innings when he was walking three batters. But he improved. And he was a pro with the younger guys. He was here full-time for more than a month, and talked a lot with the guys between starts."
"I'm still going out to pitch every day," said Gabbard, who was the oldest Spinner by four years. "The guys (in Lowell) gave me a hard time. They asked me every day what I was doing down here. They asked me a lot about the majors. But I had fun. They are good guys."
Gabbard was promoted to Portland on Aug. 13, but was placed on the disabled list after two lackluster starts. He, however, still dreams of a return to Fenway Park.
"I can't wait to return to Boston," he said. "I've had my ups and downs, but I am happy to be back in this situation with Boston. I am taking this (minor league) experience for what it's worth."