BOSTON — Brandon Workman deserves to remain in the Red Sox’s starting rotation. Whether he’ll receive that opportunity is a whole different story.
Workman showed again Sunday that he belongs at the major league level by effectively working into the seventh inning in the Red Sox’s 3-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park. The right-hander has made a statement since being recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket on May 25, and Boston will have a difficult decision to make once Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront are ready to rejoin the Red Sox’s rotation.
“That’s not something I’m really trying to worry about,” Workman said of sticking with the staff. “I’m just trying to throw the ball as well as I can on my day, and that will take care of itself one way or the other.”
Workman was charged with two earned runs on five hits over six innings Sunday. He struck out seven, walked two and threw 103 pitches (68 strikes), ultimately exiting after Daniel Murphy and Carlos Santana reached to begin the seventh inning.
“I thought he was very good,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after the game. “Swing and miss to three different types of pitches — his fastball, his breaking ball and his cutter. He hasn’t gone into the seventh inning but a couple of times this year, but still I thought he was strong. He got a number of key strikeouts with men in scoring position. He threw the ball very good. He more than did his job today.”
Workman didn’t factor into the decision, as Yan Gomes greeted Burke Badenhop in the seventh with a sacrifice fly to tie the game and Nick Swisher eventually lifted the Indians to a victory with a solo homer in the 11th. But Workman has been a consistent force every time he has taken the ball, allowing three runs or less and going at least five innings in all eight of his major league starts.
“Something that we quickly came to understand of Brandon a year ago. Even in a very early stage of his career, he was a consistent strike-thrower,” Farrell said. “(He) kept the tempo and the pace of the game, and the emotion of the game, under control. And he continues to do it, whether it was late postseason coming out of the bullpen or a starter’s role.”
The Red Sox have shown a lot of faith in Workman since his first big league call-up last July. The 25-year-old was thrust into high-leverage situations during the Red Sox’s World Series run — even tossing a scoreless eighth inning in Game 6 of the Fall Classic — and he has firmly established himself as Boston’s go-to guy whenever a hole opens in the rotation. The question is whether the Red Sox will be willing to — as they should — create a permanent place for him even after Buchholz and Doubront are deemed ready.
“We still have some time before those guys come back,” said a noncommittal Farrell. “We’re not here to make a decision yet, but he is certainly doing everything that he possibly can to not only make a strong statement but put us in a position to win each time he’s walked to the mound.”
Workman’s propensity for giving the Red Sox a chance to win is exactly why he belongs in the rotation. He owns a 3.21 ERA in five starts this season, and he’s continuing to evolve as a pitcher right before the Red Sox’s eyes, evidenced by his improved use of his breaking pitches and his increasing ability to work deeper into games. The problem the young pitcher faces in landing a permanent job, however, is that Doubront and Buchholz both are on the cusp of returning, and shipping Workman back to Pawtucket represents the easiest solution to the roster crunch, even if it’s not necessarily the best.
Buchholz almost certainly will rejoin the Red Sox’s rotation given his high ceiling when all is right, and Doubront is out of minor league options. The Red Sox could shift Doubront to the bullpen, where he actually excelled in the World Series, but the unit already features three left-handers — Craig Breslow, Andrew Miller and Chris Capuano — so it’s not a perfect solution, by any means.
Eventually, the Red Sox will need to ask themselves whether keeping Workman in the rotation is worth going out of their way to make a bold or creative decision. So far, he’s done nothing but help his cause.