BOSTON — It’s tough being a rookie.
Brandon Workman turned in another solid effort Tuesday as the Red Sox defeated the Mariners 8-2, yet the 24-year-old will likely be bounced from the starting rotation now that Jake Peavy has joined the mix. But even if that is the case, Workman has still shown enough to warrant a spot in the Boston bullpen.
Workman gave up a run in the first inning Tuesday, but that was all the damage that Seattle could do. Workman struck out nine over six innings to earn his first major league win.
“Hopefully tonight is the first of many wins for him as he goes forward,” manager John Farrell said. “As we’ve seen in the three starts he’s made, once he gets through that first and second inning, he really starts to find a very good rhythm. I thought he showed a tremendous amount of poise, particularly in the sixth inning with the bases loaded and gets two key strikeouts of [Justin] Smoak and [Michael] Morse. But the thing that stands out is just his willingness to attack the strike zone. He pitched in very well, very effectively to left-handers with his fastball and a solid six innings of work.”
Workman has held opponents to two runs or fewer and gone at least six innings in each of his first three major league starts, making him the first Red Sox pitcher to accomplish the feat since Rick Jones’ first three starts in 1976. Such a stretch is typically rewarded with more opportunities, but it’s unclear if and when Workman will get another chance to start, as Peavy joins a rotation that already includes Jon Lester, John Lackey, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront.
Workman will likely find himself sixth on the team’s rotational depth chart — and eventually seventh when Clay Buchholz returns to action. The rookie might receive an occasional spot start, but there’s a good chance that his next appearance will come in relief, which is actually the role that he was expected to assume upon joining the big league club.
If Workman’s performance thus far is an indication of what he’ll provide this season, then there’s no reason to think that he won’t also thrive in the bullpen, even if his long-term future is in the starting rotation.
“Every report from the development staff, who have done a great job with him, has been what we’ve seen. And that’s the poise, that’s the ability to use his fastball to get outs, not afraid to challenge the strike zone,” Farrell said. “We did bring him up for the [relief] role mentioned, but when things kind of went a little hectic, we pressed him into the start, and opportunity knocks, and he’s grabbed a hold of it and is running with it right now.”
The word “poise” is one that was tossed around frequently Tuesday, and for good reason. Workman has just four major league appearances, yet he already has the mound presence of a grizzled veteran. Seemingly nothing fazes the young right-hander, and he has shown an uncanny ability to make big pitches in key spots.
“I’m pretty confident. I’ve been confident my whole life in my ability to locate a fastball and get outs with it. Nothing’s really changed from that,” Workman said. “I feel like if I make good pitches, I have success. When I get in trouble, it’s when I leave pitches up over the middle of the plate. But as long as I execute it, I’ve done pretty well.”
Workman found himself in trouble in his sixth and final inning Tuesday, as the Mariners hit three straight singles to load the bases with one out. He responded to the adversity by striking out both Smoak and Morse to squash Seattle’s developing rally.
“I try not to get wrapped up in whether I’ve given up a couple of hits or whatever that inning or whatever kind of trouble I’m in,” Workman said. “I just try to make pitches, so I think that lets me not get worried about runners on, runners in scoring position or anything like that. It lets me just continue to make pitches.”
We should soon have a better understanding of what Workman’s role will be as we head into August, but it has become clear that he belongs in the majors. Not only does he have excellent stuff, but there’s also a bit of an “it” factor featured in his repertoire.
The thing about “poise” is that it translates well to any role, regardless of age, experience or future plans.