BOSTON – A by-product of all the trades and moves that turned over a third of the Red Sox' 25-man roster since they designated A.J. Pierzynski for assignment on July 9 is that the final two months of the season would give them an opportunity to get major league playing time for young players, especially pitchers after four-fifths of the Opening Day rotation had been jettisoned.
On Friday, right-hander Anthony Ranaudo showed promising signs of the pitching that is on the way from the minor leagues with a strong outing, and his first win in his major league debut, over the Yankees.
On Saturday, however, Allen Webster showed the flip side of that coin. The right-hander who was part of the blockbuster trade with the Dodgers in 2012 is full of potential. So far, though, that potential has yet to be realized on the major league level.
In his second major league outing this season, the 24-year-old right-hander lasted just 2 2/3 innings against the Yankees Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park, giving up four runs on two hits with six walks and one strikeout. He threw 71 pitches, 39 for strikes.
The Yankees let him off the hook in the first inning when he could have had the bases loaded with no outs. Instead, with runners on first and second and no outs, Jacoby Ellsbury’s free swinging helped Webster out. He took a called strike on what appeared to be ball one, then swung at three more pitches that also appeared to be out of the zone – fouling off the first two, before lining into a double play with Derek Jeter getting caught too far off first base by center fielder Jackie Bradley for his major league-leading 13th outfield assist.
Webster retired the side in order in the second. But he came apart in the third, needing 39 pitches to record two outs. Facing nine batters, he gave up four runs, as he issued five walks – including giving up walks to load the bases twice – with two hits.
“It was clear that he lost command of the strike zone,” said manager John Farrell. “And while there’s plenty of stuff in terms of fastball action, swing and miss to his change-up, just the ability to make an adjustment from either pitch to pitch or hitter to hitter was elusive.”
"Today I felt really good and in control of the game my first two innings then really struggled with my release point in the third and never got back to finding it,” Webster said. "It was just my fastball. If I could have found my release point on my fastball, I could have gotten my other pitches to work."
In his first big league outing this seaosn, July 27 at Tampa Bay, Webster went 5 1/3 innings, giving up two runs on three hits and five walks with four strikeouts to earn the win. In his two starts, spanning eight innings, he has allowed 11 walks and five hits with five strikeouts, posting a 6.75 ERA.
“It’s the same inconsistency of throwing the ball over the plate,” said pitching coach Juan Nieves. “The misses are huge. There’s always going to be a constant battle for him because he has to get in a little better position at all times, long-toss program, playing catch.
“We talk about having [him] a great sinker, but you have to make it work for you. Early in the game it was fine but once things unraveled a little bit, it got out of control.”
It’s part of the maturation process for any young player, especially pitchers: confidence and success go hand-in-hand. It is difficult to have one without the other.
“It's a matter of executing and making the pitch in key moments,” Farrell said. “In addition to that showing the ability to adjust more readily at this level rather than where they’ve been at Triple-A. So the requirements are just more consistent execution.”
Webster, though, has had difficulty with that. In 10 major league outings, nine starts, over the last two seasons, Webster has gone a total of 38 1/3 innings, giving up 36 runs, 35 earned runs, on 42 hits and 29 walks, with 29 strikeouts, for an ERA of 8.22.
In six career games, five starts, spanning 23 1/3 innings at Fenway, he has allowed 22 runs, 21 earned runs, on 25 hits and 17 walks, with 15 strikeouts, and four home runs, for a 6.56 ERA.
“There’s always going to be the hesitation for him because there’s no consistency,” Nieves said. “We’re trying to get that consistency on an everyday basis. He needs to make those adjustments. The quicker he makes them the better he is.”
Webster is scheduled to make his next start Friday in Anaheim.