DUNEDIN, Fla. – With much of the fan-fare directed at the matchup between knuckleball starting pitchers Steven Wright of the Red Sox and Toronto’s R.A. Dickey Tuesday, the most notable takeaway may have been the Sox’ second pitcher – Allen Webster.
Webster, one of the pieces the Sox garnered from the Dodgers in the teams’ massive trade last August, did allow a run on two hits over two innings. But the final numbers didn’t paint the most important picture during the Red Sox’ 4-2 win over the Blue Jays.
After allowing an RBI double to Melky Cabrera, Webster went on to strike out four Blue Jays batters in a row. Make the feat more impressive was that those hitters – Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, J.P. Arencibia and Brett Lawrie – are considered to be the meat of the Jays’ batting order once the regular season rolls around.
During the run, Webster – usually known for topping out in the mid-90’s – hit 99 mph on the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium radar gun one offering after clocking in at 98 mph.
“When it started out my heart was racing, the first start of the year,” the soft-spoken Webster said. “I finally got settled down.”
Webster had no explanation for the increase in velocity, only suggesting that he had gotten stronger and remained within himself mechanically. (“I don’t feel any different. It’s about the same as last year,” he said.)
But it wasn’t hard to notice that his stuff stood out. It offered an example of why he managed to strikeout 12 batters in his nine innings with Double-A Portland last season.
And, this time, he managed the results despite dealing with a healthy dose of nerves.
“All of them,” Webster said when asked which of the Toronto hitters elicited the most anxiety.
While Webster said after the performance his goal was to begin the season at Triple-A Pawtucket, the biggest challenge he faces as camp progresses is an ability to show an improved command.
So far, so good.
“Equally impressive to the arm strength, and the action of his fastball, is that he has a secondary pitch he can go to as a put-away with his changeup. And when he gets in trouble he has the ability to slow people down with a power change that has some action to it,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “He was impressive. Very impressive.”
The offensive star for the Red Sox was Jackie Bradley Jr., who continued to impress during his stint in major league camp.
“He’s running down a fly ball to the exact spot. He’s hitting good pitching, both right-handers and left-handers,” Farrell said. “Any time you have young players come into camp you’re hopeful he’s going to make a positive impression, and he certainly has gotten off to a very strong start.”
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