Not his first rodeo: Playoff spotlight not foreign to rookie Brandon Workman

October 04, 2013 - 5:37 am

Brandon Workman has experienced the hot glare of the spotlight on the biggest stage before. It didn't end the way he would have liked. In 2009, the right-hander -- then a sophomore at the University of Texas -- was summoned from the bullpen with a championship on the line. His Longhorns trailed LSU, 4-0, after just two innings, and Workman was asked to bring the game back under control and give his team a chance to win. He did, following a leadoff single against the first batter he faced by retiring nine straight Tigers hitters, permitting the Longhorns to rally to tie the game, 4-4. But brought back out for a fourth inning of relief, Workman faltered, as a leadoff single, a passed ball and a double in the sixth allowed LSU to take a lead they would not relinquish en route to the title. Workman, despite excellent relief work for his first three innings, was saddled with the loss in the title game. But the experience of pitching in front of a raucous crowd of 19,986 and, for those first three innings, dominating offered a meaningful growth opportunity for the right-hander. "It was a big situation and I was able to go out there and keep my nerve about me, go out there and throw strikes. That let me know that the situation wasn't too big for me. It wasn't the outcome I wanted, but I was still in it and still performed in it. That let me know that I am capable of being in that situation and getting the job done," said Workman. "All that extra adrenaline you're not used to pitching with, it kind of taught me how to channel it into pitching, not being out there wide-eyed and not able to throw strikes." Workman suggests that, in addition to offering a lesson in how to harness his adrenaline to attack opposing hitters, the College World Series experience also offered him "extra motivation" heading into his junior year. Workman was one of the top pitchers in the country following that championship exposure, going 12-2 with a 3.35 ERA while striking out 8.7 batters per nine innings and walking just 2.0 per nine, a performance that positioned him to be taken by the Red Sox in the second round of the 2010 draft by the Red Sox. Now, in his third season in the Sox organization, Workman is poised to experience anew the adrenaline rush of the playoff setting, this time in the big leagues. The 25-year-old emerged as a key contributor to the Sox pitching staff this season, going 6-3 in 20 appearances (three starts) with a 4.97 ERA, showing the ability to strike out batters out of the bullpen (11.2 per nine innings) in a fashion that has positioned him to be called upon in some pivotal middle innings situations where the Red Sox might need a punchout. While it is difficult to predict how a young player might react to the playoff stage, Workman at least has a set of experiences upon which he can draw. "The College World Series definitely was, at the time, the most high intensity, biggest situation I'd ever been in," said Workman. "Obviously this is a bigger stage, but being able to adapt to going in there and pitching in that, this is a bigger stage but I feel like I'm a little more equipped to handle it because of that experience and really just every experience so far this year. They've all kind of been big experiences for me, so I feel like it has me to where I can be a little more prepared for that." That Workman is in this position in 2013 is in itself somewhat remarkable. After all, he opened the year in Double-A, and didn't receive an invitation to big league camp given the pitchers who were in front of him on the organization's depth chart. But he dominated in both Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, in turn forcing his way into a meaningful role that now has him positioned to assume what could be a pivotal role in October. "Obviously, that was my goal coming into the year. I knew, with the rotation we had, it was going to be tough to crack. But I hoped I could be up here at some point, contributing in any way possible," said Workman. "I don't know if it's surprise, but it's kind of what I was hoping could happen and working towards. It's definitely a great feeling knowing that I've gotten myself in the position I wanted."