Has Brandon Workman become the Red Sox' most important player?

Rob Bradford
July 18, 2019 - 7:41 am

It was fairly uncomfortable watching, Brandon Workman trying to get those final five outs in what would be a 5-4 Red Sox win over the Blue Jays. Forty-five pitches. One run on a hit and two walks. The go-ahead runner standing at first base when that final out was made. (For a complete recap, click here.)

But that was the point. There was Workman and then everyone else. It's a dynamic that has become an increasingly growing reality for the Red Sox.

Ryan Brasier is in Pawtucket. Heath Hembree is trying to find his pre-injured list form. Marcus Walden has come back down to Earth somewhat. Steven Wright? Hurt. Tyler Thornburg is off to another organization.

Josh Taylor could only get one out leading into Workman, and the fail-safes as the righty's pitch count was building included rookie Darwinzon Hernandez and Colten Brewer warming up.

This was a microcosm of exactly how important this pitcher has become ... perhaps the most important player.

"Just grinding through it, some good hitters," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora of Workman's outing. "(Freddy) Galvis, he’s been outstanding against us. Gets a 3-2 breaking ball, strikes him out. Then at the end, I told (pitching coach) Dana (LeVangie) at one point, 'It’s him right here. It’s either him or him.' He finished the job. Of course he’ll be down tomorrow and we’ll find a way to get those last three outs tomorrow. He’s been outstanding the whole season. I saw a stat the other day comparing him to other relievers in the league, he’s one of the top relievers in the league, too. We said Raffy (Devers), Christian (Vazquez), Xander (Bogaerts) deserved to be All-Stars. Work was the other one that should’ve been in Cleveland."

If not for Workman, the Red Sox' goose would be cooked. That isn't an over-exaggeration.

As Cora pointed out, he has subtly become one of the best relievers in baseball. His opponents' batting average stands at .105, the best among all major league pitchers. And don't forget, this is a guy who was seemingly on the cusp of making the 25-man roster out of spring training thanks to a fastball that wasn't quite showing enough velocity, and results that weren't all that comforting.

But then Workman found himself. The four-seamer is now being thrown almost 20 percent less than a year ago, with the big curveball having become one of baseball's best weapons.

He has been a revelation. He has been a necessity.

But Workman has also become the example of how dramatic the Red Sox' bullpen's class system has become.

There's Workman and Matt Barnes and everyone else. It is exactly why Cora immediately classified Thursday's series finale against the Blue Jays as the potential bridge leading to a bit more normalcy. Manage to navigate this one without Workman and potentially Barnes, while getting what they hope is Nathan Eovaldi's final tune-up with the PawSox before he joins the equation and perhaps the reliance on one guy is somewhat diminished.

"We need to get better. (Thursday) is a big day for the organization," Cora said. "Nate will pitch in the minor leagues and if everything goes well he might be with us over the weekend. I do feel come tomorrow, move on and everything will settle down. We feel that way. We have some power arms in the bullpen. Work is a huge part of what we’re doing. Barnesy seems like he’s getting confidence again. It’s just a matter of keep getting quality starts from our starters and go from there."