Alex Cora didn’t go into full-blown recruiting mode last week after the Chicago Cubs released reliever Brandon Workman.
The Boston Red Sox manager already made his sales pitch over the offseason — on Super Bowl Sunday, in fact — before Workman decided to take his talents to the Windy City in free agency.
But, now that Workman is back with the Red Sox organization after signing a minor league contract Thursday, Cora is hopeful the 32-year-old right-hander will make an impact with Boston in 2021, much like he did in previous seasons.
“He feels good about it,” Cora told reporters, during a video conference Friday, of Workman returning to the franchise that drafted him in the second round in 2010. “Obviously, it didn’t go well in the second part of the season last year (with the Philadelphia Phillies) and it didn’t go well with the Cubs, and there’s a few things that we recognize with our information department that hopefully we can regain and he can become a factor.”
Workman had a fascinating first stint with the Red Sox, during which he won two World Series titles.
He was a key member of Boston’s bullpen for the club’s 2013 championship run, even pitching the eighth inning of the Red Sox’s clinching victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the Fall Classic, but then didn’t appear in a single game at the major league level in 2015 or 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Workman resurfaced in 2017, secured another ring in 2018 and became Boston’s lights-out closer in 2019 following Craig Kimbrel’s offseason departure. The Red Sox traded him and fellow reliever Heath Hembree to the Phillies last August for Nick Pivetta and Connor Seabold.
It was tough sledding for Workman in the City of Brotherly Love, and his struggles continued this season on the north side of Chicago, culminating with his release from the Cubs and his reunion with the Red Sox.
“I think it’s a good opportunity for both of us — for him to get right and for us to have a good pitcher,” Cora said. “Like (Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom) has been saying since he got here, the deeper, the better, right? As far as the roster and obviously the organization. This guy, he’s done it before, he’s done it in this market and hopefully, like I said, he becomes a factor this year.”
So, what does Workman need to improve to again be the hurler who posted a 1.88 ERA while striking out 13.1 batters per nine innings in 73 appearances in 2019?
“We always talk about his velocity, right? It was a topic in ’18, it was a topic in ’19 spring training. When his velocity’s a tick up, it helps everything else,” Cora said. ” … I think with him velocity is very important because the shape of the breaking ball and the spin is usually the same. It’s still a good breaking ball, but if he doesn’t have something else to separate, he becomes a one-pitch pitcher and game planning comes into play. His cutter, too, is part of the equation. And we’ve just got to get him back to gaining his confidence, too.”
Recapturing velocity obviously is easier said than done, so perhaps Workman will need to make other adjustments at Triple-A Worcester before returning to Boston.
Still, there’s reason to be optimistic, if only because Workman is back in a familiar environment where he’s found tremendous success in the past. No team knows Workman quite like the Red Sox.
“I know he’s happy,” Cora said. “There’s a comfort level that hopefully can help him out to regain that confidence, and like I said, hopefully he can become a factor.”