FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox did not invite Brandon Workman to major league spring training last season. He was one of the prospects occasionally added to the roster for games.
Eight months later, Workman pitched the eighth inning of the clinching game of the World Series.
Workman took the field with the rest of the pitchers for the team’s first official workout Monday morning with fans snapping his photograph and later asking for autographs. The 25-year-old righthander gets recognized now, even in his native Texas.
“To reach a dream of playing major league baseball and throw the World Series on top of that, it’s an unbelievable experience,” Workman said after the Sox practiced for two hours before a crowd of 1,400 at Fenway South. “It was surreal into the offseason. It took half the offseason to really sink in for me.”
Workman’s already significant value to the Red Sox increased Sunday when Ryan Dempster elected not to pitch this season. Now Workman is the first pitcher the Sox will look to if a need arises in the rotation.
As such, the Red Sox will use him as a starter during spring training, then drop Workman into the bullpen nearer to Opening Day if needed.
“Coming in as a starter is what I’ve done every single year,” Workman said. “The preparation is the same for me. If a switch to the bullpen happens, it’s what I did last year.”
Manager John Farrell said Dempster’s departure would not change how the Red Sox use Workman in camp. Those plans were already in place.
“We had every intent to condition him in spring training as a starter,” Farrell said. “He is trained or [has] gotten ready for every season as a starter and we don’t want to just change that. We can always pull him back late if that’s what the role calls for.”
Workman started last season with Double A Portland. He was 8-2 with a 3.21 earned run average with Portland and Triple A Pawtucket when the Red Sox called him up in July. Farrell admitted he had thought little about Workman until then.
That changed quickly. After pitching once in relief, Workman took a no-hitter into the seventh inning at Oakland July 14 before giving up two runs. Strong starts against Tampa Bay and Seattle followed.
The trade for Jake Peavy put Workman back in the bullpen and he proved reliable in late-inning situations. Workman was not afraid to challenge hitters and adapted quickly to different roles. He also showed an increase in velocity.
The Sox didn’t back away from Workman in the postseason. He appeared in seven games, three of them in the World Series, and threw 8⅔ scoreless innings.
In Game 6, Workman protected a five-run lead by retiring Yadier Molina, Matt Adams, and David Freese in order. It was an extraordinary display of faith in a pitcher Farrell didn’t remember watching much of in spring training.
“It’s definitely a confidence boost to know they trusted me to put me out there in some of those situations I was in,” Workman said. “For the most part I was able to perform fairly well in those roles. It’s a confidence boost going into this year knowing whatever my role turns out to be I feel comfortable.”
If Workman returns to the bullpen, the Sox aren’t sure how he’ll be used. Koji Uehara is the closer and he has experienced setup men in Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, and Edward Mujica behind him.
“We’ve got a number of guys that are proven and have been successful in those later-inning roles,” Farrell said. “Because of the way [Workman] evolved last year, if he’s in our bullpen when we start the season, depending on the given day, there’s no lack of confidence in using him in high-leverage situations.”
Workman still profiles as a starter according to Farrell, saying his attributes all point that way. But the Red Sox are content with his path coming through the bullpen.
“I was going into this spring to perform the best I can when given the opportunity. Whatever role I fall into after that is out of my hands,” Workman said. “I’m still going to go out there whenever they tell me to and do the best I can whatever that role is. That’s all I can control.”
Don’t worry about Workman staying humble. When he got to camp, he asked the equipment staff if he could get a better number than 67. The best they could come up with was in the 50s.
So 67 it is, at least for now.
Workman also chuckled when asked if he did anything exciting in the offseason given his newfound status as a playoff hero.
“I did a lot of resting,” he said. “I tried to get ready for this season. I didn’t do a whole lot.’’Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.