Allen Webster's promising Red Sox debut

Jim Rogash

The right-hander gave Red Sox fans reason to look towards the future in his big-league debut

With Sunday's doubleheader coming on the heels of Friday's cancellation, the Red Sox needed a spot starter. Normally, that honor would go to Franklin Morales or Alfredo Aceves, but Morales is currently rehabbing from a back injury in the minors, while Aceves is already temporarily in the rotation, in lieu of the injured John Lackey. That meant it was time to dip into the minor-league depth, and call up Boston's most advanced pitching prospect, Allen Webster.

Webster is just 23, and finished his 2012 campaign at Double-A Portland after the Red Sox acquired him from the Dodgers in the Nick Punto trade. He had pitched very well in his brief time there, with 12 strikeouts in 10 innings against three walks, adding up to a 0.90 ERA. (Webster also struck out four without allowing a walk in a rained out, two-inning start that doesn't count in his numbers, so his April has been even better than advertised.) In an organization without a full rotation, he very well might already be in the majors given his strong spring, start to the season, and the fact he's already accrued the necessary 20 days of service time to place his 2019 season under team control. The Red Sox, however, have a full rotation, or will once Lackey returns within the week.

For now, fans will just have to be satisfied with the taste of Webster his debut provided. He's already back in the minors -- Webster was the 26th man allowed by the rules of a doubleheader -- but it isn't because of how he pitched.

Webster sat at around 95 miles per hour with his fastball, with his change-up coming in roughly 10 mph slower than that. Both offerings were very effective, with Webster throwing his heater for strikes about three-quarters of the time, while logging swings-and-misses on 10 percent of them, well above the average. He also induced plenty of grounders with it, and 25 percent of his batters faced grounded into an out in his six innings of work. That's in addition to the five strikeouts he logged.

As for swing-and-misses, his change was the star of the evening. Webster threw 17 of them, and five of them induced whiffs. That might not sound impressive, but it's just under 30 percent of them, and the average change-up nets about 12 percent whiffs. All four of Webster's pitches saw better-than-average swing-and-miss rates on the night, but his change-up was the standout of the impressive bunch.

The start did not go without issues: he gave up a pair of homers, one to George Kottaras and one to Alex Gordon, both on fastballs he left in the middle of the zone. First, Kottaras on a 92 mph fastball...

Webster-kottaras-hr_medium

...then Gordon on this 96 mph pitch he drove the other way:

Webster-gordon-hr_medium

It should go without saying, but this is not a permanent worry going forward. Webster is fresh out of Double-A, with just a touch of Triple-A on his resume, and he threw two mistakes to major-league hitters that, by virtue of his pure stuff and speed, he probably could have gotten away with in the minors. This is the kind of learning experience young pitchers need, as simple as it might sound: things you can get away with against minor-league hitters don't always work in the majors.

Webster is now armed with this knowledge -- from the look of things, he figured it out before either of those pitches even landed -- and is back in the minors with it. Hopefully, in between now and his next big-league start, he works on keeping the ball down in the zone consistently, as pure stuff isn't always enough in the majors.

One of the concerns with Webster's future, the thing that will decide whether he's a top-of-the-rotation arm, an average starter with great stuff, or a high-leverage reliever, is his control. Shifting to the middle of the rubber from the third base side, logically, should help a pitcher with his repertoire. We saw it in the spring, it's worked that way in the minors, and against the Royals, when he walked just one, it seemed to be working. There's room for improvement there still -- he threw just 57 percent strikes, opponents fouled off far too many of his fastballs, and he might not always be as efficient from a pitch count perspective as he was in yesterday's outing when those two things occur.

That being said, this was a fine debut from an unfinished product. Webster could likely pitch -- and with success -- in the majors right now. But the Red Sox' rotation situation does not necessitate that, meaning they have the luxury of letting Webster continue to develop and refine his arsenal and game plan in games that don't count. He'll be up soon enough when there is a need for him, and if his first start was any indication, he'll be ready to contribute at that time.

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