PAWTUCKET — Rich Sauveur firmly believes that all five current members of the PawSox’ starting rotation possess the ability to hold down jobs at pro baseball’s highest level.
“Whether it’s with Boston or with somebody else, they’re going to start in the big leagues. I really feel that,” said Pawtucket’s pitching coach with a straight face. “I couldn’t tell you when or with who, but they will.”
The conversation inside Sauveur’s McCoy Stadium office began with a simple declaration. For the first time in his seven years with the Triple-A ballclub, Sauveur has enjoyed a significant stretch of continuity, working with the same five starters.
How long has it been, exactly? You would have to go back to April 25 when Matt Barnes was reinstated from the disabled list. The Connecticut native joined a unit that featured three starting pitchers from Pawtucket’s Opening Day roster in Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa and Anthony Ranaudo, along with Brandon Workman, who came onto the scene after opening the season in the Boston bullpen.
A sense of assuredness has washed over Pawtucket’s staff in the weeks since the addition of Barnes. There have been no interruptions of players going up and down, of trying to fit them back into the equation upon their return to minor-league life. It’s almost been akin to givens such as death, taxes and Allen Webster’s turn to pitch.
Or to expand on the above point, death, taxes and Rubby De La Rosa’s turn to throw. Or … you get the picture.
“I want them all to get promoted, but it’s good because you’re able to establish a very good relationship,” said Sauveur, hinting at the pitcher-pitching coach dynamic. “I think these guys have a competition with each other. They’re all good friends and when one guy has a bad outing, it bothers them a little bit, maybe too much.”
While Pawtucket’s rotation earns high marks for its reliability, there’s also another element to consider. The greater the sample size – Webster and Ranaudo have each made 10 starts, De La Rosa nine, Workman seven and Barnes five – the more information at one’s disposal to nit pick. While the upside for all five 20-something pitchers is undoubtedly high, all of them have dealt with varying bouts of inconsistency.
Webster, Ranaudo and De La Rosa have all issued 20 or more walks on the season, totals that help to explain why the PawSox entered Tuesday tops in the International League in free passes issued (190). Workman has been touched for eight home runs in 38.2 innings, though four of those round trippers came in one start.
The ups and downs and ebbs and flows that each pitcher has experienced raises the following question: Who would get the call in the event a member of Boston’s staff goes on the disabled list? Granted a promotion could largely hinge on whose day it is to throw, but let’s throw caution to the wind and speculate anyway.
The one player who would automatically be ruled out is Barnes, because he’s not on the 40-man roster. You can eliminate Ranaudo because he’s still considered a Triple-A newbie. De La Rosa has cooled off after allowing three runs in his first four starts, spanning 22.2 innings. Webster has been fighting command issues for much the season. So the choice would appear to be Workman, who in the last calendar year has gone from starting to relieving back to starting.
There are strengths and weaknesses with every pitcher. Sauveur, the overseer of Pawtucket’s pitching corps, was asked to talk about what each PawSox starter is doing well right now and what areas need shoring up.
Sauveur: “His fastball command is improving. It has its hiccups every once in a while, but of course everybody does. He’s got an over-the-top delivery and with that angle when he’s throwing the fastball, it takes its toll on these hitters.
“He mixes in two secondary pitches. Do I think they could work at the major-league level right now? Yeah, I think they could, but the command of them is not up to par yet.”
Sauveur: “He didn’t have his best stuff (Monday night against Scranton), but that’s the sign of a good pitcher when you don’t have your best and battle for five innings and give up one run. If you do that every time out, you’re a Hall of Famer because your ERA is under two.
“He’s battling out there. His fastball velocity has been good and his command has been decent, not great. With his changeup, that is a plus pitch for him. The arm slot changes at times, but all pitchers do that. I would like to see him go more than five innings, but he’s throwing the ball right now and having some solid outings.”
Rubby De La Rosa
Sauveur: “He gave up some hits (Sunday vs. the RailRiders) and then it seemed he tightened the belt a little bit and made quality pitches down in the zone. Like anybody who pitches with runners on base, your concentration becomes better. You don’t want these runs to score.
“He’s a pitcher this year. We had to take it easy on him last year, but he has no restrictions and he’s feeling that. You could see that earlier in the year and the way he’s responded after a couple of hiccups here and there lately.”
Sauveur: “He’s had some challenges. Once we had a nice talk and said to just out and pitch, he’s pitched his (butt) off. (Last Thursday against Indianapolis), two of his pitches were major-league average and the third was a tick below. It was a very good sign to see.”
Sauveur: “For a guy who pitched in the World Series out of the ‘pen last year, it’s a tough pill to swallow when you get sent down to Triple A. It took him about two weeks to move on, but he’s taken the challenge and worked very hard.
“(Boston) is thinking about starting him up there. That’s why they want him to start here. Everyone leaves pitches up in the zone, but he needs to get back to where he throws 100-plus pitches. From last July until a week and a half ago, he didn’t throw that many pitches in a single outing. Let him build up stamina, but he’s feeling good about himself. He’s going to be fine.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03