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May 8, 2014 at 3:02 PM

Workman progressing as a starter despite misleading results

PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Through seven innings of work Wednesday evening, Brandon Workman had allowed only two hits and faced three batters above the minimum, needing just 79 pitches. Unfortunately, both hits were solo home runs. Workman then proceeded to allow home runs three and four of the game to lead off the eighth, sending him to the showers after 87 pitches.

While the final line may not indicate it, Workman was near-dominant in the start and was at his best since being sent down to Triple-A on April 9. He was the first starter this season to pitch into the eighth inning for Pawtucket.

“You give up four hits, unfortunately they were all home runs, but you give up four hits I think that's a pretty nice job,” Pawtucket pitching coach Rich Sauveur said following Workman’s outing. “Overall, the kid threw the [heck] out of the ball.”

Workman struck out five in the outing to go along with one walk. His fastball sat 90-92 mph on the McCoy Stadium radar gun, and he leaned on the pitch early in the game, setting up his curveball and cutter in the later innings.

“First off, he established his fastball, which is a big key,” Sauveur said. “He had very good angle on his fastball, he was locating it well to both sides of the plate, and he mixed in a plus curveball. He did a great job. You give up four hits in a game and you’re thinking it’s an outstanding job and you’re picking up a win. Unfortunately, he faced a guy who can hit the ball a long way.”

That “guy” is 36-year-old Mike Hessman, who had hit 395 career minor league home runs entering the game. Hessman had the first two solo shots off Workman, Toledo’s only hits of the game entering the eighth.

After establishing the fastball, Workman featured his 75-78 mph curveball pretty heavily in the middle and late innings. He had some trouble throwing it for strikes at times, but it was very effective other times when it got batters swinging, as he induced two swinging strikeouts and another groundout with it.

“I thought the breaking ball was definitely a weapon for him,” said PawSox manager Kevin Boles. “He had that fastball-curveball mix. He didn’t use the changeup very much tonight, but those two pitches, along with the cutter, I thought he just attacked zone and went right after hitters. It was very impressive.”

Though he used the changeup sparingly, Workman was not afraid to use his other three pitches in any situation and featured all three with regularity. Using all of his pitches and learning to mix them effectively has been important in his transition back to the starting rotation after spending most of the second half of last season and first half-month of this season in the bullpen.

“He’s always focused on [using all his pitches]. You have to,” Boles said. “When you’re a starter, in order to get through the lineup three or four times, you have to utilize a mix. He has weapons. We think very highly of his ability and being able to pitch in the windup and out of the stretch, and he maintains his stuff out of the stretch. I just thought he was very effective in utilizing a good mix tonight.”

Moving back into the rotation, Workman’s transition period seems to have played out. Workman has now given up at least three earned runs in four of his five starts while building up his innings total. But looking deeper, his last two starts in particular have been strong — he struck out 13 and gave up just eight hits over 12 2/3 innings. Taking a step forward each time out has been the focus, and so far Workman has been successful.

“He’s progressed well,” Sauveur said. “He’s done a nice job here. He came down here and he knew what he had to work on. He’s been here now five starts, and every game has gotten better.”

There are still questions about whether Workman may be ultimately better suited for a bullpen role in the majors, but if he continues to pitch the way he did on Wednesday, then it will be awfully hard for the club to move him back into a relief role anytime soon. He faces stiff competition for spot starts in the all-prospect Pawtucket rotation, but if he continues to pitch well, Workman’s track record could give him a leg up for the time being.

“He’s got the stuff to be a starter in the major leagues,” Sauveur said. “And tonight was a nice step towards that.”

Photo credit: Brandon Workman by Kelly O'Connor of sittingstill.smugmug.com

Matt Huegel is Managing Editor for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegelSP.