While the Boston Red Sox battle to stay out of the cellar, it is scary to think where they might be without Brandon Workman.
Workman, a 25-year-old right-hander, is no ace. To this point in his career, he has barely been a major league caliber pitcher. His performance on Tuesday, when he tossed 6 2/3 innings of one-hit, one-walk shutout ball in a 1-0 win over the Baltimore Orioles, garnered him his first pitching victory of the season.
But as the Red Sox struggle to stay afloat, Workman has at least helped them keep their heads above water.
Workman has made four starts for the Red Sox this season, already surpassing the number of times he started last season. Thanks to the limited amount of work, his earned run average fell to 2.86 from 3.74 after Tuesday’s sterling outing. Perhaps mostly importantly, though, he has taken the ball and eaten innings. He has pitched five innings or more in four straight starts, keeping the Red Sox in games long enough to get to their solid bullpen.
The greatest ability in sports, after all, is availability.
At the same time, possibly because he spent a good portion of the season in Boston last year, Workman is not some naive kid the veterans have to usher along. The feud with the Tampa Bay Rays proved that. Workman has a suspension appeal to be heard Friday, after he threw at Evan Longoria in a beanball battle with the Rays. The cold, professional precision with which Workman did the deed was noteworthy. He aimed a little high, maybe, but he didn’t look rattled. David Ortiz and the Red Sox regulars came to his defense, but it wasn’t like he needed it. The kid handled himself fine.
If there is a bright spot to take out of these first 2 1/2 months — for sure, it takes a lot of digging — it is the way that young players who should balk at the moment have instead seized it. Xander Bogaerts looks like the real deal. Brock Holt is due for a slump that should be coming any day now — three weeks ago. In the meantime, Holt just keeps hitting. Jackie Bradley Jr. is fighting himself at the plate, but he looks as smooth and as confident as any big leaguer when he goes back on a tough line drive in the outfield.
Workman, like his young position-player counterparts, knows what he is doing. Either that, or he fakes it well enough to fool people — especially, on Tuesday night, Orioles hitters.