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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

Red Sox Would Be Short-Sighted to Take Workman Out of Rotation for Buchholz or Doubront

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AP Photo

What should the Red Sox do with Brandon Workman? Nothing.

Why?

Until the kid proves that he doesn’t deserve to be a part of it, what’s the point of taking him out of the rotation once Felix Doubront and Clay Buchholz return from the disabled list? What has Buchholz done over the past three months that was anywhere decent enough for him to have a spot reserved for when he gets back?

Workman made his latest case for remaining in the rotation on Tuesday night, when he pitched the Red Sox to a 1-0 win over the Orioles at Camden Yards. Workman took a no-hitter into the sixth inning during his best start of 2014, despite having to sit through a pair of rain delays in Baltimore, where they apparently still predict the weather by talking to a rock.

It was Workman’s first win of the season. That ties him with Jake Peavy, who has made nine more starts this season.

Workman has pitched well enough to win each of his four starts this year, even if he officially only has one quality start to his credit. Hell, it's an eye-opener that Buchholz somehow has five quality starts this season. Name them.

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But while Doubront, who made a rehab start at Triple-A Pawtucket this week as Buchholz will do days later, will likely slide back into the spot kept warm by Rubby De La Rosa (unless, that is, he magically develops a third pitch and dazzles Wednesday night against the Orioles), Buchholz’s return creates a bit more of a headache for John Farrell. That is, if Clay indeed does return and doesn’t play "ouchies" out for a second-straight season.

You would think the Red Sox would be smart enough to forgo Buchholz for what they have going in Workman, but then again, the front office just signed a $10 million shortstop who can’t play, so the jury may be out. That’s not to say that Doubront has been ace material either, but if a decision has to come down to between him and Buchholz, I’m taking the lefty who gets beat up by car doors rather than the righty who can’t handle pillows.

To consider either simply retaining his spot in the rotation is short-sighted.

“When you start to profile what a starting pitcher is, [Workman] fits that bill," Farrell said. "He’s durable, he gets outs with his fastball and tonight was another reason why we like him in this role.”

Workman, of course, burst on the major league scene last season, when he was 1-1 in his short, three-game stint as a starter (including another no-hit bid against Oakland which he took into the seventh inning of his first major league start), with a 2.45 ERA. But the Red Sox went out and got Peavy at the trade deadline, and Workman found himself relegated to a bullpen role, where he was nails in the postseason. With any other team, he probably would have started the year in the rotation. In the crowded Boston five, he started the season in the bullpen, was sent to Pawtucket to stretch out to be a starter (probably after Ben Cherington and Farrell watched Buchholz twice through the rotation), and now, here he is; a dependable arm at the back of the starting rotation, something the Red Sox haven’t had all season.

But there always has to be a “but…” Workman threw only 67 pitches Tuesday night, and has yet to throw more than 92 in any game this season. Jason Mastrodonato, of MassLive.com, presents Workman’s higher batting average against in the fourth-fifth innings (.333) vs. the first-third innings (.129) as a sign of concern, and notes that it’s in direct contrast to his three starts last year (.262 innings 1-3, .212 innings 4-5). But isn’t that more indicative of Workman still stretching out to the starter’s role - after nearly a calendar year as a bullpen arm - more than it does his inability to pitch deep into a game?

Tuesday night’s low pitch count was simply a matter of the conditions and the fact that Orioles hitter Chris Davis, due up in the seventh, was 0-for-7 with six strikeouts against Boston lefty reliever Andrew Miller. He’s now 0-for-8 with seven strikeouts vs. Miller, who relieved Workman with two outs in the inning. But what’s the difference between Workman giving the Red Sox an effective five innings and handing it over to the bullpen, and having to yank an imploding Buchholz and hope the bullpen can come to the rescue? Wouldn’t any manager in his right mind rather have the former?

"I've seen some different swings against him the third time through the order,” Farrell told MassLive. "Both games he's pitched it's been in some tight situations in terms of what's on the scoreboard. You know, felt in those moments it was time to make a move."

Farrell’s next move shouldn’t take much.

The Sox gained a game in the AL East standings with their second win in three games Tuesday night, but still face a nine-game deficit in the division, five in the early wild card race. If indeed they do end up being sellers, Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Peavy are all going to be attractive options for other teams in the hunt. That could potentially leave Boston with a 2015 rotation of Buchholz, Workman, Doubront, Allen Webster, and De La Rosa.

What’s overshadowed in all this is that Webster is having a pretty good year in Pawtucket (3-3, 2.94 ERA), with no room in the major league rotation right now. Bypassed for De La Rosa when Buchholz went down, it’s pretty clear that the Red Sox don’t anticipate yanking him up and down for injury’s sake. In the likelihood that one or more of Lester, Lackey, or Peavy is traded by the July 31 deadline, the 24-year-old righty will have a spot waiting for him.

Workman should be there right there with him. He's given no reason for the team to change his role - again. If you’re committed to a youth movement, as the Sox clearly are, at some point it has to infiltrate a starting staff that could very well lose its leading free agent in Lester in a few months’ time.

The assumption that he’s gone once Doubront and Buchholz return is far too easy a hypothesis. Nothing has been easy this season. Why should this be?


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