Brandon Workman once seemed like a lock for the Boston Red Sox’s 2015 starting rotation. Now, Boston should take a long, hard look at whether the right-hander is better equipped for the bullpen.
Workman overcame a shaky first inning Thursday against the Pittsburgh Pirates to toss five frames in which he allowed three runs (two earned) on seven hits. It wasn’t Workman’s worst outing — he consistently generated swing and miss while keeping the game within reach — but the bigger picture suggests a relief role is at least worth considering for next season. And that’s not a knock on Workman.
Workman has pitched better than his 1-10 record indicates. There have been several games in which the Red Sox’s offense has provided little support or one series of hiccups on the mound has proved lethal. But dropping 10 consecutive decisions also shouldn’t be overlooked completely, especially when the tumultuous stretch coincides with diminished velocity, occasional command issues and an overall look of fatigue.
The Red Sox have several young starting pitchers pushing their limits and working deeper into the year than they ever have before. Workman is testing his physical boundaries while also coming off a shortened offseason by virtue of his involvement in the Red Sox’s 2013 World Series run. The extra work this season could help strengthen Boston’s young arms, including Workman, but it also could shape the Red Sox’s mindset going into next season.
Workman’s career numbers actually are better as a starter than a reliever. As with many pitchers, however, Workman’s stuff has the ability to play up in the bullpen. The upside could be too good to ignore.
Workman recorded six strikeouts Thursday, his second-highest total of the season. Three came on the curveball, two on the fastball and one on the cutter. It was an encouraging sign, especially given that the 26-year-old overcame early control issues en route to a fairly decent start, but Workman’s fastball still sat around 88-89 mph. While it’s not impossible for Workman to thrive with such velocity, his offspeed stuff could potentially be devastating — his curveball, in particular, was excellent Thursday — with a fastball sitting around 93 mph, as it was during his bullpen days in 2013.
Yes, there’s more value in having a starter who can toss 180-200 innings than having an additional bullpen arm. And yes, Workman still has the potential to become a solid back-end starter if that’s the direction the Red Sox ultimately settle on. But the Red Sox’s pitching staff could undergo a massive transformation this offseason. If Boston acquires enough rotational horses, a move to the bullpen wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for Workman.
Workman showed last season he can handle the pressure of late-game situations. (Go watch the eighth inning of Game 6 of the World Series if you’re looking for a reminder.) As the Red Sox make sense of their plethora of pitching prospects, it might be time to start thinking about the heir apparent to Koji Uehara, who, it should be noted, is a free agent after this season.
Workman is a good pitcher with a bright future. The future could be brightest with a move to the ‘pen.