ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Red Sox would have been entirely justified had they returned Allen Webster to the minors after his last start.
Webster looked as nervous as a freshman on his first day of high school, walking six before he was finally lifted in the third inning. The 24-year-old righthander had walked 11 in eight major league innings this season to that point.
But manager John Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves were convinced Webster’s problem could be fixed before he faced the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night. They saw a pitcher who was leading with his body and had lost his release point. A few bullpen sessions could cure that.
Webster rewarded the faith of his manager, pitching the best game of his brief major-league career as the Red Sox beat the Angels, 4-2, before a crowd of 38,016.
Webster (2-1) allowed two runs on four hits over 6⅔ innings. He walked two, struck out three and hit two before leaving the game after 84 pitches.
It was the first time in 11 major league starts Webster recorded an out in the seventh inning.
The Red Sox are 2-2 on their eight-game road trip. The Angels have lost four straight.
Webster left the game with a two-run lead that Tommy Layne, Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara made stand up.
Jackie Bradley Jr., a defensive replacement in the eighth inning, made a terrific leaping catch on the warning track in center field to rob Howie Kendrick of at least a double leading off the ninth inning.
Bradley reached high to grab the ball, which floated in his glove for a second before he secured it and crashed into the wall.
“It was well hit. I immediately broke and took my eyes off it. I tried to get the fastest three steps in before looking back to see if I could handle it,” Bradley said.
Uehara didn’t need his translator to comment on the play. “Wow, great catch,” he said in English.
Bradley made another big play in the eighth inning, racing in to take a leadoff single away from Mike Trout.
“He’s such an impact defender,” Farrell said. “We’ve seen it many times. He had an impact in this game with two innings of defense.”
The ninth inning was complicated even after that catch. David Freese doubled with one out and Chris Iannetta walked with two outs. But Uehara struck out Kole Calhoun with Trout standing on deck for his 24th save.
Webster spent the last few days working with Nieves and bullpen coach Dana Le Vangie on his delivery while throwing in the outfield.
“It took every day,” Webster said. “We were out there early every day. Just trying to get myself to repeat my mechanics. In my bullpen before the game, everything was right there.”
Farrell was quick to credit rookie catcher Christian Vazquez.
“Christian did an outstanding job behind the plate. There were a number of time he doubled up on breaking balls when [Webster] missed with the first one,” the manager said. “He used the breaking ball to get [Webster’s] hand back on top when he misfired with a fastball.”
Webster didn’t shake off any pitches Vazquez called.
“If I messed up and got away from my mechanics, he looked at me and told me to get right back at it,” Webster said. “That definitely kept me going in the right direction.”
Said Vazquez: “That for me is an honor, to help the pitcher. That’s my priority, to get him to make the pitches.”
Angels starter Jered Weaver retired seven of the first eight batters he faced before the Red Sox scored three runs in the third inning.
Vazquez doubled with one out, continuing his near-daily production at the plate. Singles to left field by Brock Holt and Dustin Pedroia got Vazquez in.
Weaver got David Ortiz to pop to left field, but he could not end the inning there as Yoenis Cespedes lined a double down the line in left to drive in two runs. The RBIs were the first for Cespedes as a member of the Red Sox.
Webster, handed a 3-0 lead, stumbled in the third inning. He walked leadoff hitter Efren Navarro on four pitches. Chris Iannetta’s double to left field was bobbled by Cespedes, and Navarro scored after stopping at third.
Iannetta advanced to third on a groundout and scored when Trout flied deep to center field.
Webster walked Albert Pujols, but retired Josh Hamilton on a ground ball to first base.
The Red Sox added to their lead in the fifth inning when Mike Napoli sent a high fastball over the fence in left center for his 14th home run.
Napoli was drafted by the Angels and spent five seasons in the majors playing for Mike Scioscia before being traded to Texas in 2011. He has taken it out on his former team since. In 40 games against the Angels, Napoli has hit 14 homers and driven in 27 runs. Eleven of those home runs have come at Angel Stadium.
Weaver allowed four runs on seven hits over six innings. The Red Sox worked him for 108 pitches.
Webster did not have any clean innings beyond the second, but he did not allow any runners advance beyond first base after the third inning.
Webster took a two-run lead into the seventh inning and hit Freese. Navarro lined to left and Iannetta popped up to left before Farrell called in Layne, a lefthander, to face Calhoun, a lefthanded hitter. Calhoun hit the ball well but Cespedes made his third putout of the inning with a nice running catch.Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.