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Allen Webster sees improved results in fourth big-league start

06.29.13 at 12:14 am ET
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Allen Webster improved on his previous two starts on Friday against Toronto. (AP)

Allen Webster improved on his previous two starts on Friday against Toronto. (AP)

By the numbers, Allen Webster‘s Friday start against Toronto looks pedestrian: four runs on six hits and three walks over six innings, 57 of 100 pitches for strikes. But after two rough starts at the major-league level, Friday was a significant step forward for the 23-year-old righty, starting with the fact that he made it through four innings without allowing a run.

“Much like we’d anticipated, if he gets through that first inning, he had the chance to settle in,” Sox manager John Farrell said, referring to the fact that Webster had given up four runs in the first inning of each of his last two outings. Webster had lasted 1 2/3 innings and 4 1/3 innings, respectively, in those appearances against the Twins and Tigers.

While Webster didn’t quite match the potential he showed in his first big-league start on Friday, he did pitch deeper into the game than he had since then, logging six innings. He also found a way to get outs on a night when when he wasn’t missing bats and struck out just three.

Webster got just five swings and misses, a departure from the 21 he got in his last start against the Tigers (14 of which came on his changeup). What he did manage to do was get ground ball outs consistently – 10 of them (and another that was foiled by a throwing error on Stephen Drew). That was especially important in the second inning, as the Sox missed two chances at double plays. With a runner on base throughout the inning, the Jays could have capitalized on those missed defensive opportunities if Webster had given up a hit that left the infield.

Webster’s fastball registered as high as 97 mph on Friday, but Farrell was most enthusiastic about the number of timely outs he recorded on the ground.

“They bunched some hits, but I think overall, he showed very good stuff, pitched against a very good fastball-hitting team. And I think again, the most encouraging thing is the number of ground balls he was able to induce,” Farrell said.

Six out of the 10 groundouts came on pitches in the lower half of the strike zone, which Webster said was a conscious effort on his part.

“I was trying to keep the ball down, throwing the two-seam down. Trying to get them to put it in play down on the ground,” he said.

Webster’s main problem, as it has been all season, was his command. Before the fifth inning, he had only gotten into one three-ball count. In the fifth and sixth, he got into five, walking two and giving up two runs – on a sacrifice fly and a single – in those counts. Still, for a pitcher who’s not only struggled with walks but also hit 11 batters and thrown six wild pitches at Triple-A Pawtucket this year, the damage was relatively minimal on Friday.

The Sox kept Webster up to make another start, instead of calling up Rubby De La Rosa or Alfredo Aceves from Pawtucket, partly because they wanted Webster to have some consistency instead of bouncing constantly between levels. Webster said it did help to have Sox starters including Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey talk with him throughout the week about how they prepare for starts.

“I guess I’d say it helped out a little bit, just to follow through,” Webster said. “A couple of guys, a couple of starters on the team pulled me aside, helped me out, telling me what they do to start, trying to get a good routine up here.”

With Buchholz still rehabbing his neck and shoulder ailments, Webster may get another shot at a start in Boston next time through the rotation. Although he’s still working through his command issues and striving for consistency, Webster was smiling on Friday when asked about his adjustment to the majors.

“Each start, getting a little more comfortable, a little more each day,” Webster said. “It’s getting great. It’s fun.”

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