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April 16, 2013 at 1:00 PM

Webster displays nasty changeup in strong start

PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- On Monday night, Allen Webster turned in his finest performance of the season thus far, striking out seven in five innings of work. The only blemish of the night came on a solo shot by former major leaguer Josh Fields to lead off the second inning, and otherwise he mixed his pitches effectively and used his nasty changeup to his advantage.

"It felt good," said the 23-year-old Webster following the start. "That was a real aggressive team that was going after fastballs, so when we mixed it up [with offspeed stuff], they were still swinging for fastballs."

"He looked good this start," his battery-mate, Dan Butler, said after the game. "He was getting ahead of guys; he was putting guys away when he had the chance to. He did a real good job staying in the zone, making guys swing the bat a little bit. He got some early outs, and he just did a good job of attacking the zone and going right after guys."

Attacking the zone has been particularly important for Webster this spring and early in the season. That he gave up no walks in Monday's start is an encouraging sign, though he did have some trouble putting batters away quickly and took several at-bats to full counts, averaging exactly four pitches per batter faced.

Manager Gary DiSarcina pointed to that as the reason he only went five innings in the game following the start.

"Early in spring [his command] was outstanding, and then it kind of plateaued a little bit," said DiSarcina. "He's got to learn to be a little more efficient with his pitches, to get to the sixth or seventh inning to help save the bullpen."

"He's throwing to contact, he's throwing to guys," Butler said. "He's not trying to just nibble on the corners. He did early in the game — to a couple guys he was trying to over-throw a little bit, and he got behind a couple guys. But he was able to come right back and make the adjustment, and get back over the plate."

His fastball is his best pitch, with late life and sink on it, and that was on display in this start as hitters could hardly touch the offering outside of the home run. He recorded two swinging strikeouts on the pitch and four groundouts. It sat 94-95 mph and touched 97 in the fifth inning. There has been talk in the past of Webster losing velocity as he gets deeper into outings, but that was not the case Monday.

The changeup is his second-best weapon after the fastball, and it was working for him in the start. However, DiSarcina thought he may have relied on it too heavily.

"He pitched well," he said. "He [left] a couple changeups up, he fell in love with his changeup a little bit. But I think for the most part, he did okay. He kept us in the game. He had a really good heavy sinker going at 95-96 mph. A lot of swings and misses on that.

"He just fell in love with his changeup, but he's got an outstanding one so it's easy to fall in love with. But good hitters are going to jump on it when it's up in the zone."

From his perspective, Webster disagreed.

"No, not at all," Webster said on if he thought he threw it too much. "They weren't hitting it; I would have thrown all changeups if they weren't hitting them."

In watching the start, it's easy to see why Webster loves throwing the pitch; he recorded nine swing-and-misses against it, and three strikeouts. It consistently sat at 82-84, and he carried over his arm speed from the fastball, making it hard for batters to pick up. It also showed fade and the bottom dropped out of it at the end when buried down in the zone. The pitch was especially effective against lefties. He did leave one up in the zone that got hit though.

"He threw the changeup a lot, yeah," said Butler. "Guys were swinging at it. He was throwing it a lot; he was getting outs with it though. That's why we kept going with it, because it was getting outs and getting swings. But yeah, we did throw it a little too much.

"But the breaking stuff — we mixed that in a couple times, probably should have thrown it a little more, but I think overall he did a good job throwing everything."

He mixed in the slider throughout the outing, an 83-86 mph offering on which he recorded two strikeouts. It's an inconsistent pitch and he had trouble throwing it for strikes at times, but it shows flashes of potential. He also has a curveball that sits in the mid-70s that he says he's had since high school, but he only throws it in some of his starts to "buy a strike" when it feels right.

After walking three in his first start of the season, this was an encouraging outing for Webster. Though he will need to continue to work to be more efficient, he controlled the game and dominated the opposing lineup for most of the outing. With continued refinement, he looks likely to be major-league ready by the end of this season, if not earlier.

Photo credit: Allen Webster by Kelly O'Connor 

Northeast Scout Ian Cundall contributed scouting notes to this story. Follow him @IanCundall. Matt Huegel is Managing Editor for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegelSP.