When a biceps injury cut John Lackey’s first start of the season short, the rumblings for Allen Webster were almost inevitable.
He already was high-profile after being part of the haul in the trade that sent Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers.
And Webster’s spring training performance only made him more intriguing.
In 11 innings over four appearances, he rung up 14 strikeouts with a 1.64 ERA and two saves, and because of that, there was urging from outside the organization to hurry along the prospect.
For the most part, when his name came up among the options to fill Lackey’s spot, Webster tuned it out. But at the same time, he’s human.
“I cared,” he said. “I didn’t hear anything about it [from the organization]. If it happened, I’d have been more than happy to go up.”
In two starts this season at Triple A Pawtucket, Webster has allowed just one run over 10 innings with 12 strikeouts. And even with expectations and anticipation rising, the approach Webster is taking is to wait for his opportunity rather than rush it.
“If you start thinking too far ahead, you won’t be thinking about the present when you’re out there,” Webster said. “Then if you do bad, there’s no chance of you going up. “
It’s a balance that director of player development Ben Crockett understands.
“It’s a challenge that I think every upper-level minor league player has to go through, and certainly someone that’s gotten the attention that Allen has and did the things Allen did in spring training,” said Crockett. “I think every player on the Triple A roster — and really to some extent the Double A roster — is within striking distance of the major leagues. He’s done a really good job of keeping his focus on the field.”
Webster’s five-pitch arsenal is impressive. He said he’s never felt better about a changeup he picked up three years ago.
“It gets better every time I go out and throw it,” he said.
The goal now is consistency. He’s been working with PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur on simplifying and repeating his mechanics.
“What’s been impressive is that what I heard about him last year is he had a very live arm, but he had some command issues,” Sauveur said. “From spring training and working with [Red Sox pitching coach] Juan Nieves, I’ll tell you, his command has improved tremendously.”
Crockett called fastball command key to Webster’s progression, and in less-than-ideal circumstances (his first start was in 51 degree weather, the next time he took the mound the game was rained out after two innings) he’s shown strong signs. He’s thrown first-pitch strikes to 63 percent of the 40 batters he’s faced.
“His fastball moves so much that he doesn’t necessarily have to be really fine with it, throwing it to the black at all times,” Crockett said. “Because of the late action and the velocity that he has on that pitch, he has the luxury of probably pitching a little bit more to the halves of the plate or the thirds of the plate than the corners, like some guys need to.”
In the meantime, Webster will be patient.
“I hope a lot,” Webster said. “I hope every day just to get a chance to go up, but I’ve got to stay down here and just be consistent and just do good throughout the whole year until my time comes.”
Three to watch
Anthony Ranaudo — He’s 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA and 12 strikeouts in his first two starts with Double A Portland. After dealing with a groin injury last year and shoulder fatigue the year before, Ranaudo felt stronger coming into this season.
Xander Bogaerts — He came away from his World Baseball Classic experience with the Netherlands feeling strong, saying the competition, especially the pitching, was better than he expected. But he struggled out of the gates with the Sea Dogs, going 7 for 44 in his first nine games.
Daniel Bard — He gave up four earned runs on three hits and one walk in his first three outings with Portland, notching just one strikeout. But since then he’s been strong, throwing three straight scoreless innings.
Not much to say
Crockett was disappointed by the 50-game suspensions handed out to pitchers Gerson Bautista and Miguel Pena for violation of the minor league drug policy.
For a second time, Pena, 22, tested positive for a drug of abuse. Bautista, 17, tested positive for the synthetic anabolic steroid Stanozolol.
“They’re suspended,” Crockett said. “They’ll have to serve those suspensions. Obviously, it’s disappointing. But obviously they’re things that were deserved.”