EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 15, 2013

Large division lead gives Sox chance to experiment

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — BOSTON — Why on Earth has Allen Webster been on the Red Sox roster the past seven days instead of helping Triple-A Pawtucket in the International League playoffs?

After all, the righty has not pitched in a single game since being promoted Sept. 8.

Webster, one of the organization’s top prospects, obviously is here as a relief pitcher. But do the Red Sox plan to give him a tryout in high-leverage, late-inning situations for a shot to make the postseason roster if he does succeed?

“You know as well as I do,” Webster said about how Boston plans to use him. “Yeah, I don’t know.”

With the playoffs a few weeks away and with an AL East championship nearly locked up — Boston’s magic number dropped to six right after its 5-1 victory over New York yesterday — it is a perfect time for manager John Farrell to experiment with pitchers other than just Brandon Workman during the late innings.

Webster, Workman and Franklin Morales should all be receiving a tryout in this role. Rubby De La Rosa also could be given more of a chance but what he’s shown so far has been unimpressive.

Drake Britton, meanwhile, should be used more as a situational lefty, especially with southpaw Matt Thornton allowing a lot of base runners recently.

Working Webster into the mix might seem far-fetched considering he struggled with his command so much in six starts with Boston earlier this season.

But taking into account Webster’s mid-90s fastball and the way he pitched in Pawtucket during the final month and a half there, he should be receiving some of the relief situations down the stretch when Boston can afford to experiment — and must experiment.

Experimentation is a necessity because the Red Sox must identify another reliable reliever beyond Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow to set up dominant closer Koji Uehara.

Farrell recently has given the baseball to Workman in tight situations but the rookie hasn’t done the job for the most part. He has a 6.33 ERA in 14 relief outings compared to a 2.45 ERA in three starts here with Boston.

Finding that one extra go-to reliever to complement Tazawa and Breslow could be the difference between the Red Sox making it to the World Series and an early pllayoff exit.

This team’s offense, defense and starting pitching (Jon Lester was terrific yesterday) looks ready to make a deep postseason run. The bullpen remains the one concern.

Farrell still is confident in Tazawa despite his eight blown saves and susceptibility to giving up home runs (8 this year).

“I think if you look at where Junichi has been pitching, it’s been pretty routinely in that eighth inning,” Farrell said. “We’ve had the need to mix and match when guys have not been available.”

Tazawa’s blown save total doesn’t tell the whole story. He has a 2.28 ERA in 23.2 innings after the All-Star Break. He has 3.00 ERA in 30.0 innings pitched in the eighth inning. And he has 25 holds.

Breslow, meanwhile, has a 2.00 ERA in 54.0 innings and a 1.37 ERA in 19.2 innings pitched in the eighth.

A southpaw, he is as effective against righties as he is lefties.

Those are the two main setup men the Red Sox must live or die by the rest of the way. But who can be counted on beyond those two?

Come playoff time, there might need to be some mixing and matching if Breslow and Tazawa are asked to pitch more than an inning one day and aren’t available the next. Or what if one them suffers an injury?

The only way to find out if Webster is capable is by using him. Why not? He has great stuff. Command issues caused him to struggle significantly in his six big league starts this year.

But he worked on his command when he returned to Pawtucket. In his final six starts in Triple-A, he posted a 3-0 record, 2.67 ERA and held opponents to a .183 batting average.

Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves said about Webster: “He’s going to pitch. It’s just a matter of finding the right spot for him — non-stressful situations right now maybe steps into what we can give him.”

The righty pitched one scoreless inning of relief in the PawSox’ first playoff game earlier this month.

“In spring training I’d come in after some of the big league starters and I’d go one inning or two innings and I just kind of kept that same mindset,” Webster said about adjusting to the bullpen. “I don’t care where I’m at. I want to get in the game sometime. I want to get in there.”

It certainly is understandable why the Red Sox have given Workman a shot late in games and they haven’t done the same with Webster yet. Workman looked so comfortable starting for the Red Sox earlier this year while Webster posted a 9.57 ERA in six starts.

And although Webster is a higher-rated prospect, Workman’s control was ranked by Baseball America as being the best among all Red Sox minor leaguers entering this year.

Yet Workman has struggled with his control as a reliever.

That’s more reason to give Webster a shot and as a reliever, the righty wouldn’t have to be dependent on all his pitches if he couldn’t command all of them in a given outing.

And it’s more reason to also give Morales some more high leverage situations to see whether he is capable of being relied on in the postseason. In his past nine outings, Morales has only surrendered one run.

“The velocity has kind of regained its previous levels over the last six or even outings,” said Farrell, adding that Morales certainly is in the mix.

Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB