Over the winter, Red Sox manager Alex Cora attempted to recruit then-free agent reliever Brandon Workman back to the team he began his professional career with.
Cora ultimately came up short in his recruitment pitch, as Workman inked a one-year deal with the Cubs in February.
“My last conversation was Super Bowl Sunday with him,” Cora said. “And it was recruiting, actually, at that time. It didn’t work out.”
Workman was designated for assignment and subsequently released by Chicago last week less than a full month into his tenure there. The right-hander had posted a 6.76 ERA over 10 outings (eight innings pitched).
Upon hitting the open market again, Workman was available for any club to pursue. The Red Sox were one of this interested teams, but Cora did not take part in any recruiting this time around.
“I didn’t recruit him,” said Cora. “I gave up in the offseason. I wasn’t a good one.”
Workman ultimately chose to reunite with the team that selected him in the second round of the 2010 amateur draft out of the University of Texas, as he signed a minor-league pact with the Sox on Thursday and was assigned to Triple-A Worcester.
In his first stint with the Sox, the 32-year-old proved to be a valuable bullpen arm capable of getting big outs — especially in 2019.
Over 73 appearances that year, Workman put up a dazzling 1.88 ERA and .433 OPS against while recording 104 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings of work.
The following season, Workman made just seven appearances out of the Boston bullpen before getting traded (along with Heath Hembree) to the Phillies in exchange for right-handers Nick Pivetta and Connor Seabold.
With Philadelphia, Workman struggled immensely to the tune of a 6.92 ERA in the process of blowing three of a possible eight save opportunities from late August through the end of September.
Despite those hardships, the 6-foot-3 righty still netted himself a big-league deal this past offseason, though the struggles he experienced with the Phillies carried over to his brief stint with the Cubs as well.
“He was excellent, right? Those numbers were amazing,” Cora said of Workman’s 2019 campaign earlier Friday. “I texted him a few days ago, just thanking him for giving us a chance. And just get to work. He feels good about it. Obviously it didn’t go well in the second part of the season last year, and it didn’t go well the Cubs. There’s a few things that we recognized with our information department that hopefully we can regain, and he can become a factor.”
One thing the Red Sox will be hoping to regain from Workman is his fastball velocity. The hurler has averaged just 91.5 mph with his four-seamer this season after averaging 92.5 and 92.9 mph with the pitch over the last two years, respectively.
To put that into perspective, opponents hit a measly .134 against Workman’s heater in 2019. They are hitting .556 against it so far this season, per Baseball Savant.
“When his velocity’s a tick up, it helps everything else,” said Cora. “Teams make adjustments. I saw his last one against the Braves and he threw a lot of breaking balls. And he threw some good ones and some bad ones. But I think with him, velocity is very important because the shape of the breaking ball and the spin, it’s usually the same. It’s still a good breaking ball. But if he doesn’t have something else to separate, he becomes a one-pitch pitcher. And like I said, game-planning comes into play. His cutter, too, is part of the equation. We’ve just got to get him back to gain his confidence, too.”
Considering the fact that he turns 33 in August, Workman adding a few more miles per hour to his fastball velocity seems like somewhat of a tall task. That being said, Cora appeared fairly confident that the former closer would be able to do it since he is back in a familiar setting with the Red Sox.
“Sometimes it mechanical. Sometimes it’s just go out there and get repetitions,” said Cora. “I don’t know how it went in spring training as far as his build-up and all that. But that was something we always talk about here — about his velocity… The velocity needs to be at a certain level and if that happens, then the other stuff is good, too. I know he’s happy. There’s a comfort level that hopefully can help him out to regain that confidence. And like I said, hopefully he can become a factor.”
When asked if he viewed the Workman signing as a gamble, Cora responded by saying that it could turn out to be a win-win situation if Workman returns to his old form.
“I don’t see it as a gamble,” he said. “I think it’s as a good opportunity for both of us. For him to get right and for us to have a good pitcher. Like Chaim [Bloom] has been saying since he got here: the deeper the better as far as the roster and the organization. This guy, he’s done it before, he’s done it in this market, and hopefully — like I said — he becomes a factor this season.”
(Picture of Brandon Workman: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)