It’s one of the great cliches in baseball. Logjams happen, and they always seem to work themselves out.
The Boston Red Sox starting rotation was in such a situation at the beginning of Spring Training, with six proven major league starters in Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster. Seventh on the depth chart was Brandon Workman, a young, less proven pitcher who made three starts in 2013 before being moved to the bullpen, where he played a key role in the Red Sox World Series run.
Despite his success out of the pen, he was put on an offseason training program geared for starting pitchers. Entering 2014, Workman was no longer a prospect. He was a major league pitcher. Despite being good enough to be a major league starting pitcher, things needed to happen for the 25-year-old to crack the rotation.
And sure enough, things happened.
Dempster announced at the start of Spring Training that he would forego the 2014 season. Doubront struggled, then went on the DL when he hit his shoulder on a car door. Buchholz went on the DL after looking lost for the first two months of the season. So Workman got his chance in late May, called up to the big club following a six-week stint in Pawtucket, where he was sent to be stretched out after beginning the season in the Red Sox bullpen.
In five starts since returning to the rotation, Workman has proven what we already knew — he is a major league pitcher. Over those five outings, Workman is 1-0 with a 3.21 ERA, allowing 10 runs over 28 innings, holding opposing bats to a .190 average and a .567 OPS. While the Red Sox are just 2-3 in those games, he’s put the team in a position to win every time out.
Workman’s last two outings have been statements as much as they’ve been starts. Statements that he’s going nowhere.
In those two games, we’ve seen the best of both worlds from Workman, who has thrown an aggregate 12.2 innings between the two games, pitching into the seventh inning in both. In one start, we saw a guy who had all his stuff working for him. In the other, we saw a guy battle and work his way out of jams, showing veteran-like poise with men on base.
Had mother nature not intervened, Workman may have thrown a complete game on Tuesday in Baltimore, a 1-0 Red Sox win. A lengthy rain delay shortened Workman’s day, however, with him getting the hook with two outs in the seventh inning, just 67 pitches into his start. He retired 19 of the 21 batters he faced, not allowing a hit until Ryan Flaherty reached on a base hit in the sixth. The big righty made easy work of what is a very good Orioles lineup.
On Sunday, he faced another solid lineup in the Cleveland Indians. Workman wasn’t as sharp as Tuesday, allowing five hits, two walks, and also hit a batter. But it wasn’t all bad either. In fact, it was another positive sign.
Cruising through the first three innings — his lone blemish being a Michael Brantley homer in the first inning — he ran into trouble the second time through the order. In both the fourth and fifth innings, he put runners on after retiring the first batter of the inning. In both innings, he got out of the inning unscathed.
Workman never got rattled, looking more like a pitcher in his eighth season as opposed to eighth start. He competed, battled, and left the game in the top of the seventh with the Sox leading 2-1. Unfortunately, the bullpen once again couldn’t bail out the anemic Red Sox offense and the Tribe won in 11 innings, 3-2.
What happens to the rotation when both Doubront and Buchholz return within the next couple weeks is the next big question facing the Sox. Similar to how Brock Holt needs to stay in the lineup, Workman needs to stay in the rotation. Behind Lester and Lackey, he is currently their third-best starter.