BOSTON — Allen Webster is winless through his first four big league starts. His record stands at 0-2, his ERA sits at 9.50 and his WHIP checks in at 1.83.
Throw out the numbers, for now.
Webster easily could have walked away with a win in his major league debut on April 21, and he easily could have added another one against the Blue Jays on Friday. What we should really hone in on, though, is Webster’s improvement since start No. 1.
Webster got beat up for 1 2/3 innings in his second start on May 8, and he was essentially thrown to the lions — or Tigers, in this case — in his June 22 start. He hadn’t toed a major league mound in well over a month before facing the Tigers, and he was forced to not only go up against Detroit’s extremely potent offense, but also an undefeated pitcher in Max Scherzer. The stars were aligned for a rough day at the park.
Friday’s outing gave Webster another difficult test, and it was his most important test yet. The start marked his first against a divisional opponent, and it happened to be against the red-hot Blue Jays, whose lineup is dangerous from top to bottom. Webster didn’t ace the exam, but he passed with flying colors.
Nine of the 15 runs that Webster allowed before Friday’s start came in the first inning. He bucked that trend of early jitters against the Blue Jays, though. He retired Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in order in the first, which set him up for a much better outing overall.
Webster’s stat line — four runs on six hits over six innings — doesn’t include the increased confidence with which he seemed to pitch on Friday. Even when he found himself in a little bit of trouble, he quickly got back on track, and it wasn’t until the fifth inning that the Jays started to square some balls up.
“Much like we anticipated. If he gets through the first inning, he has a chance to settle in,” John Farrell said after the Red Sox’ 7-5 win, in which Webster received a no-decision. “The most encouraging thing is the number of ground balls he put on the ground.
“I thought he showed a lot of poise tonight. … They bunched some hits, but I think overall he showed very good stuff, pitched against a very good fastball-hitting team and again I think the most encouraging thing is the number of ground balls he was able to induce.”
Webster induced 14 ground balls Friday, and it was because of the rookie’s ability to keep the ball down, particularly when turning to his offspeed stuff. That’s a habit that must continue, and if it does, it shouldn’t be long before Webster’s full repertoire starts yielding even better results.
If Webster had struggled on Friday, there’s a chance that the Red Sox could have explored other spot-starter options, including Rubby De La Rosa, who has been lights-out at Triple-A of late. But Webster took a big step forward, and in the process, he earned himself another opportunity the next time through the rotation.