Allen Webster showed flashes of his potential Sunday. He also fell into some old habits that he has managed to minimize for most of this season at Triple-A Pawtucket.
Webster, who was called up to start the series finale against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, guided the Boston Red Sox to a 3-2 win, snapping the club’s five-game losing streak. The right-hander threw more balls than strikes, though, and it was a so-so outing given the improved command he has displayed in the minors for much of 2014.
“My body felt really good, but my command wasn’t as there as I wanted it to be,” Webster said after the game. “But I made the pitches when I needed.”
Webster, to his credit, overcame his control issues to pitch 5 1/3 innings. He allowed two runs on three hits while striking out four en route to his second major league victory. Webster issued five walks and only threw 48.8 percent (42 of 86) of his offerings for strikes, but some key pitches enabled the 24-year-old to wiggle out of trouble.
The Rays’ only damage on the scoreboard came in the third inning, when Desmond Jennings answered David Ortiz’s three-run homer in the top half of the inning with a two-run double into the left-center field gap. Webster then walked Ben Zobrist — after which Zobrist and Jennings executed a double steal — but rebounded to strike out Matt Joyce and Evan Longoria to preserve Boston’s one-run lead.
Joyce went down swinging at a changeup. Longoria looked at a 2-2 slider framed beautifully by catcher Christian Vazquez. Webster’s other two strikeouts — both in the first inning — came on fastballs, a pitch that wasn’t quite as sharp as the righty is accustomed to.
“I was pulling a little bit off of them. I was jerking them,” Webster said of his fastball. “And the ones I didn’t jerk, I missed away. I wasn’t getting my arm out in time.”
Webster made eight major league appearances (seven starts) with the Red Sox last season, during which command also was an issue. He walked 18 batters over 30 1/3 innings. Webster has learned at Pawtucket this season, however, that pitching to contact often can be as effective as trying to blow fastballs by hitters. As a result, Webster’s ground ball rate is up despite his strikeout rate being down, and the prized pitching prospect owns a 3.10 ERA in 21 Triple-A appearances (20 starts).
“What you have to do is start to shift away from velocity and strikeouts as being the end-all, be-all,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after Sunday’s win. “Outs and working deep into games is what allows a starter to be around for decisions. If you were to mark what are the characteristics of a successful starter, it’s how many quality innings you log, and along with that comes pitch efficiency.”
Webster wasn’t very efficient Sunday. But mixed in with his erratic tendencies still were some positive signs.