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Red Sox still waiting for Allen Webster to make big league adjustments

08.02.14 at 9:46 pm ET
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This was not the case that Allen Webster wanted to make for a spot in the 2015 rotation. The 24-year-old has long been viewed as having potentially elite stuff. But on Saturday — in his second start this year, one outing after navigating through five walks to last 5 1/3 innings against the Rays for a victory — he melted down in a four-run third inning in a fashion that raises red flags about his ability to compete at the major league level.

After he opened the contest by breezing through two scoreless frames, Webster could not make it out of the third, an inning in which he issued five of his six walks while losing his release point completely, ultimately becoming the Red Sox pitcher of record in a 6-4 loss to the Yankees.

“I felt good in the first two innings, really struggled with my release point in the third and never got it back,” said Webster. “It was just my fastball. If I could’€™ve found my release point on my fastball I could’€™ve got my other pitches working on it.”

Webster had shown signs of improved control in Triple-A this year. He’d cut his walk rate from 3.7 per nine to 3.2 per nine, and his hit batters from 1.4 per nine innings to 0.4 per nine while showing an improved ability to harness his two-seam fastball in the strike zone.

But in two big league starts, he’s issued 11 walks in just eight innings. And his inability to show an ability to reel in his struggles in the third inning on Saturday bordered on alarming.

“While there’s plenty of stuff in terms of fastball action, swing-and-miss to his changeup, just the ability to make an adjustment from either pitch-to-pitch or hitter-to-hitter was elusive,” said Sox manager John Farrell.

All of that raises a question as to why Webster hasn’t been able to carry his mechanical improvements in Pawtucket forward to the big leagues.

“There’s a drastic difference between here and Triple-A, whether it’s the consistency of strike zone, the quality of hitter, the stage in which you’re performing on,” said Farrell.

“I’ve always been a firm believer that you walk three guys in Triple-A, it’s about maybe six walks here. One-hundred twenty innings in Triple-A are probably about 70 innings here,” added pitching coach Juan Nieves. “The stress level, lineups, strike zone, it all comes in hand.”

Nieves noted that when he did throw strikes, Webster got ground balls and weak contact. But while a sample of two starts at the big league level in 2014 and nine total starts in the majors since the beginning of 2013 seems small, it’s hard to overlook the absence of reliable performance. Webster has an 8.22 ERA in the big leagues, second worst among the 281 pitchers who have made at least five starts since the beginning of last year.

Clearly, he has not yet found his footing at the major league level.

“There’s no [set] length. It’s all personality and feel,” Nieves said of the typical duration of a transition. “There are so many things that are involved with that. It could be 10 starts. It could be 30 starts. It could be 50 starts. It could be 70 starts. We don’t know. Everybody is different.”

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