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Workman: 'It's a lot of fun pitching in those spots'

Righty became one of Majors' most dominant relievers last season
@IanMBrowne
March 2, 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- A year ago at this time, roles weren't defined in the Red Sox's bullpen. Craig Kimbrel had left, leaving a gaping hole at closer. Then-manager Alex Cora was being cryptic about how he would deploy his bullpen personnel. And for somebody who had already been a

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- A year ago at this time, roles weren't defined in the Red Sox's bullpen. Craig Kimbrel had left, leaving a gaping hole at closer.

Then-manager Alex Cora was being cryptic about how he would deploy his bullpen personnel. And for somebody who had already been a part of two World Series-winning teams, nobody was in a more uncomfortable spot of limbo than Brandon Workman.

"Last year, I didn't know if my role was going to be on the team or not," said Workman. "So it's definitely nice knowing that I'm probably going to make the team this year."

Yes, Workman is probably going to make the team this year. As in, definitely. He is probably going to be the closer as of Opening Day. As in, definitely.

In the second half of last season, the Red Sox finally provided some structure in their bullpen. And there was no more important development than when Workman was given the chance to take the ninth inning and run with it.

With a nasty curveball that he used 47 percent of the time and a fastball that averaged 92.9 mph and consistently bit the corners, Workman had the best season of his baseball life.

Workman pitched in 73 games, notching a 1.88 ERA and holding opponents to a .123 average. With little fanfare, most likely because the Red Sox didn't reach expectations as a team, Workman became one of the dominant relievers in the game.

And it was a story that should have gotten more play when you consider the following:

Workman missed the entire 2015 season after having Tommy John surgery that June, and he didn't pitch in the Major Leagues at all in '16. Though he was perfectly adequate in '17 and '18 while bouncing between Boston and Triple-A Pawtucket, his '18 postseason was not pretty.

In Game 1 of the American League Division Series, Workman gave up two hits and a walk while retiring just one batter as the Yankees nearly stormed back from a 5-0 deficit after three innings in an eventual 5-4 loss to Boston. Game 2 was no better, as Workman gave up a hit to two of the three batters he faced and again got just one out.

The bottom fell out in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series against the Astros. Workman again got just one out. This time, he gave up four runs on three hits, two walks and two homers as Boston got blistered, 7-2. Though the Sox came back to win the next four games and get to the World Series, Workman didn't make the Fall Classic roster.

For someone who had pitched a scoreless eighth inning in the clinching Game 6 of the 2013 World Series, that was a tough pill to swallow. The Red Sox won the '18 World Series with Workman as a spectator, and that motivation fueled him to have the best offseason of his career.

Nobody enjoyed the resurrection of Workman more than longtime teammate Matt Barnes.

"Absolutely. I've known him for a long time. We played together for the first time in the Cape [Cod League], so we've been friends for a long, long time," Barnes said. "To watch what he's done, obviously first getting to the big leagues in '13 and doing what he did, being a dominant reliever for them in the World Series run, watching him go through the arm injuries, that was tough to watch. But the way that he bounced and his resilience, that was awesome."

And the 31-year-old Workman isn't just a closer for the Red Sox. But he has become a quiet leader in the bullpen.

"He was instrumental in me kind of bouncing back from that terrible June that I had," said Barnes. "We were able to sit down and he helped me a lot in terms of understanding his sequencing, recognizing pitches, how to set pitches up following pitches."

This season will be the first time Workman has had the opportunity to be the closer from start to finish. Entering his walk year, another successful season could earn him a lot of money in the free-agent market.

"It's a lot of fun pitching in those spots," Workman said. "I really do enjoy pitching in those games, those tight games late. I think it's fun -- the adrenaline of it is fun."

In Koji Uehara and Kimbrel, Workman had the chance to learn from two of the best in team history. And this is what he took away from it.

"The consistency about how they go about their business every day. They're doing the same work, not skipping out on things," Workman said. "They were just consistently working."

Workman now finds himself doing the same thing.

"I'm trying to stay the same really," said Workman. "Keep working the way I have. It worked out well last year, so I'm just trying to get to the spot where I feel consistent with my mechanics and repeating pitches, that sort of thing."

Red Sox interim manager Ron Roenicke feels secure about the man he will call on in the ninth inning when his team is ahead.

"I think with just his makeup, it takes a different type of mentality to allow a guy to be a closer every year," Roenicke said. "They have to be willing to go out there and they're going to give it up at times and lose a ballgame. And then, how are they the next day when they bounce back? Workman has the mentality to do that, so it allows us to believe that he can go out and do that for an entire season."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.