Can Allen Webster help the Red Sox down the stretch?

August 16, 2013 - 5:13 am

When John Lackey landed on the disabled list in April and the Red Sox needed a spot starter, rookie Allen Webster got the call. An impressive performance led to another spot start in May, and later, a place in the rotation (at least briefly) to fill the void left by Clay Buchholz. An 8.68 ERA in his four turns in the rotation (18 runs allowed in 18 2/3 innings, 10 walks to 14 strikeouts) resulted in a demotion to Pawtucket in July for Webster, and since then, he'€™s seen the Red Sox opt for the likes of Brandon Workman and Steven Wright to make spot starts, while prospects like Rubby De La Rosa and Drake Britton have earned their places in the bullpen with the major league club. Webster remains in Triple-A, struggling to string together consistent starts and working to improve his command, something that has eluded him at times in both the minors and majors this season. Webster acknowledged that watching his Triple-A teammates move past him and join the major league club is disheartening. '€œIt sucks,'€ Webster said. '€œBut they went up there and got the job done. I have to get back down here and work on a few things.'€œ Webster'€™s return to Triple-A did not go smoothly. His struggles in the majors carried over, and the right-hander gave up a total of 12 runs in six innings (two starts), including a 1 1/3-inning performance in which he allowed seven runs on three hits and five walks. In the 13 games following Webster'€™s second major league start (when he went only 1 2/3 innings and allowed eight runs), the 23-year-old issued an average of about five walks per nine innings, issuing free passes in 12.5 percent  of plate appearances. As a point of reference, the major league average among all pitchers is an average of three walks per nine innings, issuing a base on balls in roughly eight percent of plate appearances. However, in Webster'€™s most recent four starts, he'€™s been able to cut down on the numbers of walks (seven in his last 23 1/3 innings) while collecting 26 strikeouts, good for a 3.71 strikeout-to-walk ratio, more than a full point better than his season mark in Triple-A (2.66) and his career mark (2.33). He'€™s pitched to the tune of a 2.70 ERA since July 26, allowing seven earned runs on 17 hits, while opposing batters have compiled a .202/.272/.286 line against him. So what'€™s been the difference for Webster? '€œI'€™ve been getting in a good rhythm, just having fastball command, and I'€™ve been able to get ahead of batters,'€ Webster said. '€œHe'€™s just attacking hitters more, he'€™s not worrying about throwing in certain locations as much as he'€™s letting the movement on his fastball work a little bit more,'€ added catcher Dan Butler. '€œHe'€™s not trying to locate it as much. He'€™s just letting that two-seamer play in the zone, not trying to get swings and misses all the time, and his offspeed has gotten a lot better as well.'€ The ability to let his pitches play without trying to pinpoint a specific location has helped Webster pitch a little more freely. '€œI'€™m thinking more about throwing the ball rather than each step in my mechanics,'€ the righty said. '€œWhen I overthink it, I don'€™t know what'€™s going on.'€ Pitching coach Rich Sauveur echoed the sentiment, noting that it was one of the few minor adjustments Webster has made in the past few weeks. '€œHe'€™s just letting it go, just letting it go and has stopped trying to guide the ball,'€ Sauveur said. '€œThat attitude and the couple of adjustments [you make] when you leave the ball up is what do you try to do to fix that.'€ With Workman proving his value and remaining a solid option for the rotation if necessary, the acquisition of Jake Peavy, and the possible return of Buchholz sometime in September, there doesn'€™t appear to be a lot of room on the major league roster for Webster despite his recent solid performance. But could he be an asset to the club when the rosters expand in September, even if there'€™s no place for him in the rotation? Sauveur wholeheartedly believes in the right-hander'€™s ability to contribute to the Red Sox in the midst of a playoff chase, even if that means appearing in relief. Though the coaching staff never considered removing Webster from the rotation during his stretch of rough outings, he could be of use to the Red Sox in the bullpen come September. He was moved out of the rotation in Double-A after struggling to kick off his 2012 campaign, and allowed just one run on four hits and four walks while striking out 10 batters in eight innings out of the 'pen. That bit of relief work is the biggest stretch of appearances out of the bullpen for Webster since making five relief appearances in 2009. Webster did begin his professional career in a relief role, pitching to a 3.44 ERA in 12 games with the Gulf Coast League Dodgers in 2008. But Sauveur thinks that if Webster gets the call to the big leagues again this season, he'll perform in whatever role the club needs him to fill, and he'll perform well. '€œI think if the Boston Red Sox are trying to win a pennant, there'€™s plenty of room in the bullpen,'€ Sauveur said emphatically. '€œI think that he can help that team up there, yes.'€œ