Workman makes his case to remain in rotation

Workman makes his case to remain in rotation
June 16, 2014, 1:15 am
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BOSTON -- With 40 percent of the expected Red Sox starting rotation in Pawtucket, Brandon Workman has done more than his share to pick up the slack.

One day after Clay Buchholz made a start for the PawSox, and on the same afternoon in which Felix Doubront threw 90 pitches for Boston's Triple A affiliate, Workman took the mound at Fenway Park and made a case to remain in the big-league starting rotation even after Buchholz and Doubront are ready.

The 6-foot-5 righty struck out a season-high seven in 6.0 innings. He gave up two earned runs but kept his struggling offense within striking distance of the Indians.

The Red Sox eventually fell in 11 innings, 3-2, but it wasn't for a lack of starting pitching.

"I know one thing about Work is he's gonna throw the ball, and he's gonna throw it over the plate, and he's gonna give it everything he's got," said catcher AJ Pierzynski. "He's not afraid. He wants to pitch, he wants to make guys have contact, and he's showing over and over again more than one time against teams that he can do that. He can keep guys off balance. He seems to get a little more confident and a little bit more comfortable every time out."

Workman's only win of the season came in Baltimore during his last start when he tossed 6.2 scoreless innings. Now he has made back-to-back starts in which he's allowed two runs or fewer. He's also allowed three runs or less and gone at least 5.0 innings in all eight of his Major League starts this season. 

Whether he's allowed the chance to continue that streak depends on two things.

The first? Whether or not Farrell and the Red Sox decide to keep him as a starting pitcher with the big league club.

"We still have some time before those guys come back," Farrell said of Buchholz and Doubront. "We're not here to make a decision yet, but [Workman] is certainly doing everything he possibly can, not only to make a strong statement, but to put us in a position every time he's walked to the mound."

"That's not something I'm really trying to worry about," Workman said. "I'm focused on trying to throw the ball as well as I can on my day and that will take care of itself one way or the other."

The second? There's a small matter of a six-game suspension hanging over Workman's head at the moment. 

After throwing behind Rays third baseman Evan Longoria in a May 30 bean-fest that kicked off when David Price plunked David Ortiz, Workman was issued a fine and a suspension. He officially appealed the suspension during a hearing on Friday. 

"That's another thing I feel is kind of out of my hands," Workman said. "We did the appeal, stated our case or whatever you want to call it. After that, it's in somebody else's hands to make that decision. I try not to focus on it too much." 

The Red Sox haven't been told exactly when a decision will be passed down on Workman, but they expect it will be early this week.

Until then, he'll pitch. On Sunday he showed what he can do with some of his best stuff. He featured a fastball that hung in the low-90s, a sharp cutter (Farrell called it a cutter) or a slider (Pierzynski called it a slider) and a knee-buckling 12-to-6 curve.

"He can throw that," Pierzynski said of Workman's hard-breaking curve. "He had a nice little slider tonight. He threw some good fastballs with some sink on them. He had more than one pitch today. That's what he's been doing the last couple times out. That's why he's been so effective. He really is growing. You see him growing. And he feels more comfortable out there throwing his curveball. He throws it in bigger situations. He can bounce it, he can throw it for a strike, he can kind of move it around, change speeds a little bit on ya. Also can throw the slider. It's nice when you have more than one weapon to get guys out with." 

From the first inning, Workman used all three of his pitches. As the afternoon wore on, he used his cutter and curve a little more. To Indians No. 3 hitter Michael Brantley, Workman did all he could to keep him off balance.

Brantley came into the game 3-for-3 lifetime against Workman, and he made it 4-for-4 in the first inning when he hit a solo shot to make the score 1-0. In the fourth inning, Brantley got Workman again, this time on a pitcher's pitch -- a curveball on the outer edge -- that Brantley slapped into left field.

In three at-bats, Workman showed Brantley four curveballs and six cutters.

"It wasn't a bad pitch," Workman said of Brantley's homer. "We were going cutter in. I probably caught too much plate with it, but it wasn't a bad pitch, it was just a better piece of hitting by a pretty good hitter."

How Workman attacked Brantley was typical for him: Even against a guy who's hitting .538 on a seven-game hitting streak, Workman is not one to back down. He works fast and he pounds the strike zone, daring hitters to tangle with his stuff.  

The Red Sox noticed Workman's approach early last year and the rest of the world became acquainted with his style during last year's postseason run to the World Series. In the playoffs he pitched 8.2 innings and did not allow an earned run in seven appearances.

"Something that we quickly came to understand of Brandon a year ago, even in a very early stage of his career, he was a consistent strike-thrower," Farrell said. "He kept the tempo and the pace of the game and the emotion of the game under control. He continues to do it whether it was late postseason coming out of the bullpen or a starter's role."

What job Workman is given going forward remains to be seen, but he's done all he can to earn himself the latter.