Red Sox minor league roundup: Allen Webster finds the strike zone; Brian Johnson cruising; a Mookie Betts slump looks different

May 10, 2014 - 5:34 am

A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Friday: TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 5-0 WIN AT LOUISVILLE (REDS) (BOX) -- Right-hander Allen Webster tossed five shutout innings, working around six hits (all singles) and a walk while striking out three. He threw 56 of 87 pitches (64 percent) for strikes, continuing to show evidence of improved control and ability to throw strikes this season as compared to a year ago. On the season, Webster is throwing strikes at a 62 percent rate, up from 59 percent in 2013. He has four straight starts of two or fewer walks, having issued six free passes in his last 24 frames (2.25 per nine), with a 2.25 ERA during that stretch. Though his strikeout rate is down this year from 9.9 per nine innings to just 5.3 per nine innings, he's shown an ability to work deeper into games on a more consistent basis, having pitched six or more innings four times in eight starts, after doing so just six times in 21 starts in 2013. -- First baseman Ryan Lavarnway went 1-for-5 with three strikeouts, and he's now hitting .258/.346/.333 -- numbers very similar to the .250/.346/.350 line he forged last year. He's gone deep just once in 136 plate appearances this season, four times in 350 plate appearances since the start of 2013 and 12 times in 717 trips to the dish in Triple-A dating to the 2012 season. The absence of offensive impact over a significant duration -- at a time when he's being crowded off of catcher not just by Triple-A colleagues Christian Vazquez and Dan Butler, but also by Blake Swihart in Double-A -- suggests that Lavarnway, who will be out of options after this season, could see his 40-man roster spot put in some jeopardy this year unless some glimmers of the tremendous offensive potential he showed in 2011 (.290/.376/.563 with 32 homers in 116 games) quickly become evident. -- Brock Holt went 2-for-4 with a double, walk and steal. In 23 Triple-A games, he's hitting 337/.413/.489 with eight walks, nine strikeouts and seven steals, building on his strong major league performance. -- Shortstop Mike McCoy, who had been 0-for-20 in his previous six games (partly the byproduct of his sporadic playing time), went deep for the first time this year, slamming a two-run homer while going 1-for-1 with two walks and a sacrifice fly. DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 5-2 WIN VS. NEW HAMPSHIRE (BLUE JAYS) (BOX) -- Left-hander Brian Johnson continued his outstanding run, allowing two runs on six hits (four singles, two doubles) in six innings while punching out eight and walking just one while throwing 59 of 88 pitches (67 percent) for strikes. Five of the 23-year-old's eight strikeouts were looking, suggesting that his effectiveness was largely the byproduct of execution, location and sequencing rather than power for a pitcher who's mostly been sitting around 90 mph this season. In his last four starts -- two in High-A Salem, two in Portland -- Johnson has allowed two earned runs in 23 1/3 innings with 24 strikeouts and two walks, good for a 0.77 ERA, with opponents hitting .155/.174/.190 against him in that span, with three doubles and no homers. -- Catcher Blake Swihart went 1-for-4 with a double. It's been an odd stretch for the 22-year-old catcher, who has collected exactly one hit in each of the last five games and who has had no more than one hit in 10 straight games, a stretch during which he's hitting .205/.225/.308 with two doubles and a triple. He's not striking out (three strikeouts in 40 plate appearances) but he's also not walking (one free pass during the last 10 games, and just two -- against a very modest 13 strikeouts -- in 25 games this season). Swihart's average has been roughly consistent with what it was a year ago (.291 this year, .298 in 2013), and his extra-base power has ticked up (from .428 to .456), but the strides he made getting on base last year -- posting an impressive .366 OBP in Salem -- have not been sustained in the early stretches of 2014, during which he has a .305 OBP. -- Feats of Mookie: Still streaking. Mookie Betts went 1-for-3 with a single and walk, extending his streak of consecutive games reaching base to 61 regular season contests that encompasses 30 games at the end of the regular season last year in High-A Salem and 31 contests this year in Portland. In relative terms, the 21-year-old is in something of a slump -- in his last 10 games, he has just one extra-base hit and has reached base just once in five of the 10 contests. But the fact that a 10-game stretch in which he's reached base at least once every game -- while posting a .325/.400/.400 line with five walks and three strikeouts -- qualifies as a slump merely underscores the absurd standard that he's set for the year. HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 5-3 WIN VS. CAROLINA (INDIANS) (BOX) -- Right-hander Luis Diaz bounced back from a pair of five-run yields by scattering seven hits (five singles, two doubles) while punching out four and walking none. Though he has just 4.9 strikeouts per nine innings this year, the 22-year-old has allowed just one homer in 33 1/3 innings for Salem. -- Though right-hander Austin Maddox struck out three in two innings of work, he also gave up a homer, the fourth straight game in which he's been taken deep. Though Maddox has a 19-to-3 strikeout-to-walk rate, the 2012 third-rounder has allowed five homers in 19 2/3 innings this year after yielding 13 in 88 frames a season ago, an average of 1.5 per nine innings in his pro career. SINGLE-A GREENVILLE DRIVE: 5-2 LOSS VS. GREENSBORO (MARLINS) (BOX) -- Left-hander Trey Ball struggled in his third start in Greenville, not only having issues finding the strike zone (four walks, no strikeouts, 37 of 75 pitches -- 49.3 percent -- for strikes) but also giving up eight hits, resulting in a five-run yield in 3 2/3 innings. The outing represented a stark contrast to the 2013 first-rounder's prior outing, when he struck out six, walked none and got 16 swings and misses on his fastball. -- Catcher Jake Romanski, 23, continued to rake in the early stages of the season, going 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles. The 2014 13th-rounder is hitting .324/.345/.457 after an 8-for-19 stretch in his last four games. -- Right-hander Sergio Gomez, who has been a piggyback starter this year in Greenville, tossed 4 1/3 shutout innings behind Ball. The 20-year-old has a 4.71 ERA for the year, though he's allowed just one run in 7 1/3 innings over his last two appearances. -- Outfielder Forrestt Allday, a 2013 eighth-rounder who showed strong on-base skills in his pro debut in Lowell last year (.267 average, .418 OBP, 27 strikeouts and 27 walks), appeared in his first game of this year, going 1-for-4 with two strikeouts.