Brandon Workman’s Drop-Off Creates Extra Rotation Question For Red Sox

Brandon Workman, Kolton WongBrandon Workman’s 2014 season has included rain delays, an ejection, a suspension, promotions, demotions, success, failure and everything in between. In a word, it’s been eventful.

A prevailing truth has emerged from the oddities of Workman’s campaign, however: The 25-year-old, while still full of potential, no longer is head and shoulders above the rest of the Boston Red Sox’s young, up-and-coming pitchers in terms of development. He’s now muddled somewhere in the middle.

That isn’t a knock on Workman. The right-hander went so far above and beyond expectations last season, particularly as a reliable setup man in October, that it was easy to fall victim to the moment and lose sight of Workman’s youth, inexperience and room for improvement. It was even easier to overlook such factors when he started this season on such a positive note that Felix Doubront had virtually zero chance of recapturing a spot in the Red Sox’s starting rotation upon returning from the disabled list in late June.

Workman went at least five innings and allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of his first eight major league starts, marking the second-longest such streak in Red Sox history behind Boo Ferriss (nine starts in 1945). He demonstrated poise well beyond his years in that stretch, creating a sense that he’d be a rotation stalwart for years to come.

Such a fate might still be in the cards for Workman, but he officially has slipped into a sophomore slump, for lack of a better phrase. Thursday’s loss to the St. Louis Cardinals — his fifth straight defeat — offered the latest indication that things have gone awry.

Workman surrendered three runs in the first inning Thursday following a one-hour, four-minute rain delay. He threw 34 pitches in the opening frame and immediately put the Red Sox behind the eight ball, which was lethal given that Boston was going up against a National League Cy Young contender in Adam Wainwright.

“I think the reports, even before he came to us last year, (show) that (the) first inning is kind of notorious in his career,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “It’s that first inning to get into the rhythm of the game. We’ve seen it this season. We saw it in his first appearance at the major league level in Seattle last year. It’s a matter of him getting into the flow of the game without allowing some runs to get on the board.”

Workman now owns a 9.69 ERA in the first inning through 13 career starts. The pitcher acknowledged after Thursday’s loss that changes to his pregame preparation could correct the issue, though some experimenting could be necessary.

“It’s something I need to look at and maybe take a different approach out there in the bullpen,” Workman said.

Whatever the case, the overall results simply haven’t been there of late. Workman went 1-0 with a 3.21 ERA in 28 innings over his first five starts this season. In five starts since June 27 — when the aforementioned streak was snapped by a four-run yield at Yankee Stadium — Workman has gone 0-5 with a 6.04 ERA in 28 1/3 innings. Workman has allowed six home runs over his last five outings, as opposed to surrendering just two long balls through his first five.

Is the drop-off cause for panic? Absolutely not.

Workman still is scratching the surface. Plus, he has certain unquantifiable qualities — mound presence, confidence, composure — that should benefit him in the long run. His current struggles simply are rooted in a lack of execution.

But given that Workman has company — Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, etc. — in auditioning down the stretch, a 2015 rotation spot no longer seems inevitable. Workman needs to rise to the occasion to solidify his role.

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