SEATTLE – Ah yes, the time has come.
Righthander Brandon Workman, one of most highly-touted prospects in the Red Sox organization, arrived in the majors Tuesday to take a spot in the ever-growing bullpen. Workman has been impressive in Double A Portland and Triple A Pawtucket, save for one poor start July 1 when he was touched up for a career-high four homers, eight hits, and five earned runs.
Though Workman is a starting pitcher, the Red Sox are curious to see how he fares as a reliever. He has a fastball, curve, cutter, and changeup. He’s considered a fly ball pitcher, but his power arm could definitely play well in the bullpen. Workman throws 93-94 miles per hour with good location and late zip.
“We had a brief discussion,” said Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves. “I just told him to throw his regular stuff and see how it goes. I was talking to him about warming up and coming into a game and he’s done this in college [Texas] so he understands being a reliever. He hasn’t done it for a while, but we should be able to get him going and adjust as we go along if we have to.”
While the Red Sox try to sort out the reliever market to see who is available, manager John Farrell feels the team needs to investigate internal candidates first. The team received bad news on Andrew Miller, who will likely undergo surgery to repair a torn tendon in his left foot. On Tuesday they found out Alex Wilson had sprained a thumb in his pitching hand and will require further tests in Boston.
The Red Sox chose Workman over Rubby De La Rosa for this role in order to protect De La Rosa, who coming back from Tommy John surgery. Also, De La Rosa couldn’t get out of the first inning in his last start on Sunday.
Workman was the 2012 Red Sox minor league pitcher of the year after going 10-8 with a 3.50 ERA between High A Salem and Portland. Baseball America ranked his curveball and control as the best in the Red Sox minor league system.
He went 5-1 with a 3.43 ERA and struck out 74 in 65⅓ innings in 10 starts and one relief appearance for Portland this season. He was promoted to Pawtucket June 5 where he’s gone 3-1 with a 2.80 ERA in six starts. He’s a combined 8-2 with a 3.21 ERA.
What Nieves found fascinating about Workman, who was the 57th overall pick (second round) in 2010 is that he needs only 22 warm-up pitches to get ready for a start which bodes well for a relief appearance.
“I think that’s great,” Nieves said. “The average major league pitcher takes 30-35 pitches and some go as high as 40 to get ready for a game, which I never understood. Why waste that many pitches in the bullpen? So the fact that he doesn’t need a lot is probably going to make this transition much easier for him.”
Neither Workman nor Nieves feels he has to reduce his pitch selection as a reliever.
“When I had Bobby Jenks, he threw four pitches and he was one of the best closers in the game at one time. I just told him just be yourself, throw like you normally throw,’’ said Nieves. “If there’s a need to adjust something we will, but we don’t want to bog him down with that type of stuff. At this point I just want him to be comfortable going out there and pitching like he’s capable because he’s had a very good year so far and he’s got good stuff.”
In the old days, starters always cut their teeth as relievers then moved into the rotation through spot starts, and later, through attrition of older pitchers. Nowadays, it’s almost taboo for a young stud starter to go the reliever route. The Red Sox are breaking that mold with Workman.
“I’m really excited about it,” said Workman who said he got the call at 2:30 a.m. that he was heading to Seattle. “It’s a great opportunity.”
Asked whether he would have to change anything he does as he adapts to the bullpen he said, “I don’t know yet. I haven’t done it at all. The preparation and getting ready will be different. I’ll have to adjust to it. This year I’ve been more consistent and able to locate all my pitches. I’m throwing strikes. As of now that’s my plan to keep throwing what I throw. Nobody has discussed anything differently.”
As a sophomore at Texas he was used in a variety of different roles out of the pen. While he fancies himself as a starter, things change. If he takes to the role, he may just be kept there.
“We’ll see,” Nieves said. “In Chicago we had Chris Sale as a closer for a while and then he became a starter. It’s a way to get to the big leagues, show what you can do and if things work out you go from there. I think we’re just all anxious to see him and what he can bring to the table. It’s a great opportunity for the kid and it’s a great opportunity for us to have a quality arm out there in the bullpen which is where we need help right now.”
All Farrell would say is that he would give him a clean inning to begin his career. He didn’t mention high leverage or low leverage situations.
Workman made his last start four days ago, so he was ready to go starting Tuesday night.
He credits his success to being more consistent with his control.
He has more confidence about where the ball is going than ever before.
If Workman can secure a bullpen role, it would be a major coup for the Red Sox, who cringe at having to give up prospects for a veteran reliever. The Red Sox may not be able to find this out completely between now and the All-Star break, but Workman might give them a read on how diligent they need to be in acquiring help via trade.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.