When Allen Webster walked off the mound after his second start of the season, it seemed unlikely he would have another. In that outing, Aug. 2 against the Yankees at Fenway, he needed 71 pitches to get through just 2⅔ innings, giving up four runs on two hits and six walks with one strikeout.
As disastrous as that outing seemed, his three outings since have been just as encouraging. And although the Red Sox fell to the Angels Tuesday night at Fenway — when Koji Uehara gave up the go-ahead run in the ninth inning of the 4-3 loss — Webster’s performance gave reason for optimism.
The 24-year-old rookie righthander went six innings, giving up three runs on seven hits and two walks with three strikeouts and a hit batter, leaving with the game tied, 3-3.
“I thought overall he threw the ball very consistently,” said manager John Farrell. “I thought tonight was another step forward for Webby. He gets about a three-hitter stretch where they squared up a couple of pitches that stayed on the plate but six solid [innings] of work. Thought he settled in after the third [inning] pretty well.”
But there is still room for improvement.
He allowed base runners in all but his final inning. He kept the Angels from scoring in all but the third inning, when he faced seven batters. With one out he allowed five consecutive batters to reach base, beginning with a double to center field by No. 9 hitter Chris Iannetta. Kole Calhoun’s single up the middle scored Iannetta, followed by Mike Trout’s RBI triple and Albert Pujols’s run-scoring single before Webster hit Josh Hamilton with a pitch. But Webster got Howie Kendrick to hit into an inning-ending double play.
It’s part of the learning process for a young pitcher.
“I feel pretty confident right now,” he said. “On the mound, just got to keep telling myself to trust my stuff and let them put the ball in play.”
In his third straight quality start, Webster faced 26 batters. He got the aggressive Angels to swing at the first pitch 12 times, putting the ball in play just five times, resulting in outs each time. Webster recorded 10 ground-ball outs, including his 1-2-3 sixth.
“I just tried to do the same thing I did before,” Webster said. “Just tell myself to trust my stuff and let them put the ball in play, and let the defense do the work.”
“I thought he threw a number of good sliders to some righthanders, some changeups as well,” Farrell said. “When he’s right, and for the vast majority of tonight, put the ball on the ground with groundballs. It’s good to see him back up outings in a positive way and build some momentum and I’m sure some confidence on his own right.”
In his last three starts, including two against the Angels, the team with the best record in the majors at 74-50, Webster is 2-0 with a 3.86 ERA. In those outings he has allowed nine runs, eight earned, on 16 hits and seven walks with a home run and eight strikeouts.
Webster has held opponents to a .223 average this season (21 for 94). That is the lowest mark among Red Sox starters.
The biggest difference from that dreadful outing against the Yankees, when his confidence appeared as shaky as his spot in the rotation?
“Just my fastball command,” Webster said. “I’ve been just trusting it and just telling [myself] throw it there and let them put it in play instead of trying to miss the bat, try to just make bad contact with the bat.”