BOSTON -- Brandon Workman was devastated when he was told of his demotion to the minors.
When Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell informed the 25-year-old right-hander that he was being optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket on April 8, it had nothing to do with his performance. It was simply a numbers game. The Red Sox needed to make room on the roster to activate reliever Craig Breslow.
Workman knew the transaction was coming, but it didn’t make it any easier to handle. Players deal with that type of situation differently. A prospect can either sulk about returning to the minors, or he can act professionally and continue to hone his skills and wait for his next opportunity.
Workman chose the latter.
With Pawtucket, he returned to the starting rotation and pitched well, posting a 3-1 record with a 5.12 ERA in seven starts. When Red Sox starters Clay Buchholz (knee) and Felix Doubront (shoulder) both landed on the disabled list late last month, Workman was summoned to join Boston’s rotation.
Although he did not factor in the decision in Boston’s 3-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians in 11 innings Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park, Workman continues to impress. In his fifth start since returning to Boston, he turned in another strong performance.
He worked six innings (plus two batters in the seventh) and allowed only two runs on five hits, including a solo home run. He struck out a season-high seven batters and tossed 103 pitches (68 strikes). He walked only two and hit a batter.
“I thought he was very good,” Farrell said of Workman. “He had swing and miss with three different types of pitches -- fastball, breaking ball and his cutter. He hasn’t gone into the seventh inning but a couple of times this year, but still, I thought he was strong. He got a number of key strikeouts with men in scoring position. He threw the ball very good. He more than did his job today.”
In his previous start, Workman shut out the Baltimore Orioles to help Boston to a 1-0 win on June 10. He worked a career-high 6 2/3 innings and allowed a career-low one hit. He continued that consistency on Sunday.
Back in Pawtucket, Doubront made his second rehab start on Sunday and worked five innings without allowing a hit or run. The left-hander struck out 10 and issued four walks. He tossed 93 pitches (50 strikes) for the PawSox. He has been on the disabled list since May 21 with a left shoulder strain. He has made three minor league rehab starts.
Buchholz made his first rehab start on Saturday for the PawSox. The right-hander tossed 4⅔ innings and allowed three runs on four hits, including a pair of solo home runs. As of Sunday morning, Buchholz and Farrell had not discussed the pitcher’s next step.
With the way Workman has been pitching for the Red Sox, he’s making a strong case to remain in the rotation no matter when Doubront and Buchholz are ready to return.
“We still have some time before those guys come back,” Farrell said. “We’re not here to make a decision yet, but he is certainly doing everything that he possibly can to not only make a strong statement, but put us in a position to win each time he’s walked to the mound.”
Workman said he’s not focused on anything other than throwing the baseball.
“That’s not something I’m really trying to worry about,” Workman said. “I’m just trying to throw the ball as well as I can on my day and that’ll take care of itself, one way or another.”
On Sunday, other than Michael Brantley’s solo home run with two outs in the top of the first, Workman kept the Indians at bay. He retired 10 of the first 11 batters he faced, including eight in a row.
“He had more than one pitch today and that’s what he’s been doing the last couple of times out and that’s why he’s been so effective,” Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. “He’s really growing. You see him growing and he feels more comfortable out there throwing his curveball. He throws it in bigger situations. He can bounce it. He can throw it for a strike. He can move it around and change speeds on it and he can also do that with his slider, so it’s nice to have more than one weapon to get guys out with.”
Workman’s curveball was effective again on Sunday. Pierzynski has the best vantage point to see how that pitch is dropping off the table, but it’s evident Workman is confident throwing his curveball at any point. Because it has been such a nasty pitch for him, he has been able to keep hitters guessing, which has made his fastball more effective too.
The one mistake Workman made was on Brantley’s homer in the first.
“It wasn’t a bad pitch,” Workman said. “We were going cutter in and I thought I caught a little bit too much plate with it, but it wasn’t a bad pitch. It just was a better piece of hitting by a pretty good hitter.”
Workman has allowed three runs or fewer and has pitched at least five innings in all eight of his career starts in the majors. He has a 3.21 ERA in five starts this season.
“I know one thing about Work: He’s going to throw the ball and he’s going to throw it over the plate and he’s going to give everything he’s got,” Pierzynski said. “He’s not afraid. He wants to pitch and he wants to make guys have contact and he’s showing over and over again, more than one time against teams, that he can do that and keep guys off balance. He seems to be a little more confident and a little bit more comfortable every time out.”
His consistency has been impressive as both a starter and reliever for the Red Sox. He was a key component out of the bullpen for the club last fall en route to a World Series title, and that hasn’t changed this season as a starter.
“[It's] something we quickly came to understand of Brandon a year ago,” Farrell said of the pitcher’s ability to remain consistent. “Even in a very early stage of his career, he was a consistent strike thrower, kept the tempo and the pace of the game and the emotion of the game under control and he continues to do it, whether it was late postseason coming out of the bullpen or in a starter’s role.”
Workman recently appealed his six-game suspension for throwing a pitch behind the Tampa Bay Rays’ Evan Longoria and the Red Sox should have an answer from MLB early this week. Workman, who gained even more respect from his teammates for his actions against the Rays after David Ortiz was drilled by a pitch from David Price, said the suspension wasn’t on his mind Sunday afternoon.
“That’s another thing I feel is out of my hands,” he said. “We did the appeal, we stated our case and after that it’s in somebody else’s hands to make that decision, so I try not to focus on it too much.”
What Workman can control is his performance on the mound. He has been giving the Red Sox an opportunity to win every time he makes a start and if he can continue to do that, he may never have to feel what it’s like to be sent to the minors again.