BOSTON — Brandon Workman, like the Red Sox, is lumbering his way to the finish line.
While Workman downplayed the impact fatigue played in the shortest start of his major league career Wednesday, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the 26-year-old is battling his body. Not only is Workman closing in on a career-high workload, but he’s also doing so on the heels of an offseason two months shorter than he’s accustomed to because of his role in the Red Sox’s 2013 World Series run.
“There’s been games where he hasn’t come away with a win where I think he’s pitched well enough to do so,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after Wednesday’s 10-6 loss to the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park. “Across the board, when we put him in the bullpen, his stuff plays up a little bit more in shorter stints. That’s to be expected really with any pitcher.
“The one thing he has shown with the exception of an inning like (Wednesday) is he’s been able to go through the lineup multiple times, and I think there’s some residual effect from pitching probably two months longer last year than he did at any point in his career.”
Workman lasted just three innings Wednesday, allowing six runs (five earned) on six hits and three walks. All six runs came in the third inning, when the O’s brought 11 men to the plate and totaled five singles, two walks and a double. It isn’t the first time this season Workman has been victimized by one inning within an outing, but the totality of the situation points to something bigger.
Workman has thrown 143 1/3 innings this season between the majors and Triple-A Pawtucket. His career-high — set last season between three levels, including Boston’s playoff run — is 151 1/3 innings. It’s reasonable to think Workman is dealing with some weariness, like the Red Sox’s other young starters probably are at this point in their development.
It’s looking more and more, however, like Workman might be cut for a bullpen role rather than a starting role. His fastball velocity sat at around 90 mph Wednesday, which is where it’s been for the better part of three months. Workman hasn’t won a game since June 10.
By comparison, Workman’s average fastball velocity last September, when he was pitching in relief, was 93.5 mph. It allowed him to get away with mistakes, particularly on pitches up in the zone, which hasn’t been the case this season. Workman has paid for his mistakes in 2014.
The chart below, courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net, reflects the velocity dip on Workman’s four-seamer.
“Well, the one thing that we committed to his year is that we weren’t going to shift him back and forth,” Farrell said when asked if a switch to the bullpen could be in order down the stretch. “We did obviously skip him three or four starts ago to give him added rest. All those are things that are under review given the other options that are here. But that’s not to say that we’re making a change in the rotation today.”
Is Workman a lost cause as a starter? Maybe not. Next season could be a different story given that he’ll have another year of building up his arm strength and a full offseason to work with. He certainly has the poise and the mound presence to succeed in any role.
But the reality is the Red Sox have lost Workman’s last 10 starts. And he’s done little in that span to suggest he’s going to experience a major turnaround in 2014.
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