Webster struggles in spring debut

Webster struggles in spring debut
March 1, 2014, 5:30 pm
Share This Post

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The stuff is most assuredly there -- a fastball in the mid-to-high 90s, and a changeup that is regarded as a plus pitch.

But so far, Allen Webster hasn't been able to translate that into results at the major league level.

Webster was the talk of camp last year, with rival scouts and evaluators raving about his ability and wondering how the Red Sox convinced the Los Angeles Dodgers to not only take $260 million in salaries off their hands but also to include Webster in the mega-deal between the clubs in August of 2012.

But in seven spot starts for the Sox over the course of 2013, Webster was cuffed around more often than not, posting an ERA of 8.60 and an inflated WHIP of 1.813.

His 2014 didn't get off to a good start either, Saturday, when he was rocked for three runs on four hits in just an inning and two-thirds against the Minnesota Twins in a 6-2 loss for the Red Sox.

"In the first inning, he was just up,'' said catcher A.J. Pierzinski. "It's hard for a guy's first time out there. But in the second inning, he started throwing more two-seamers and was getting groundballs. I hope Webby takes that second inning and builds off that, because that's the Webby I've heard about and that's the guy that people have been talking about for a long time.''

Problem is, talk has outstripped performance for Webster -- at least in the big leagues.

The Sox have tinkered with his delivery for a second time in the last year. They now have him moving his hands more naturally as he begins his delivery.

''It takes the tension out of his shoulders," explained John Farrell before Saturday's outing. "In some ways it's comparable to the way Clay (Buchholz) made
the adjustment as well. Every pitcher, as they're trying to get into the flow of the game, there's anxiety and there's some uncertainty. That translates to some
tension. The key with Clay was, let's work to get the first ground ball on the infield. Then you could see the tension come out. This is taking it out naturally by the adjustment in delivery. It just feels more loose and fluid.''

"I think it's going to help me,'' said Webster. "It gives me a better chance to keep my timing (right) and leaving my arm behind me. It's a little easier for me to repeat (my delivery).''

But the adjustment didn't help him much Saturday in the first when five straight Twins reached -- three hits, a hit bastsman and a bases-loaded walk.

Another persistent problem has been his penchant for getting hit around in the first inning.

"We're trying to get him settled in that first inning,'' said Farrell. "It's something we've had different conversations with him about, and continue to try to work in finding the right tempo and effort level and try to get into the flow of the game a little more readily.''

On Saturday, the Sox had Webster simulate an inning in the bullpen as he warmed up, but it didn't transfer to the game.

"It's still a work in progress,'' said Farrell. "It's just a matter of him getting relaxed. I can't say it's him trying to force all of his pitches in the first inning. It's more him gaining that relaxation.''

By his own admission, Webster "got a little anxious and left a few balls up and they made good contact with them. It was my first outing and I was a little amped up.''

Webster did a better job in the second, after "taking a breather and focusing on getting ahead.''

He retired the first two hitters he faced in the second, but after a single to Brian Dozier, he was lifted after already throwing 45 pitches.

"When he kept the ball down and threw sinkers,'' said Pierzynski, "they didn't do a whole lot with him.''

Webster needs to find a way to do that more often -- starting in the very first inning.