Ryan Dempster is taking his coaches’ advice and running with it.
Dempster, who tossed two perfect innings in his spring training debut against the Cardinals on Tuesday, looked fantastic on Sunday. After giving up a leadoff single to Brett Gardner, Dempster rebounded to retire every other batter he faced in three solid innings. What’s most encouraging, though, is that Dempster’s approach seems to coincide with the philosophy that pitching coach Juan Nieves and the rest of the Red Sox’ staff has been preaching.
First-pitch strikes. It seems like a simple concept, yet many pitchers these days fail to execute that always important first pitch of the at-bat, and it’s often the root of a hurler’s struggles. Dempster has been very economical in his first two starts of the spring, and that bodes well for a team that’s looking to restore the fierce mound presence that was once so successful in Boston.
Manager John Farrell has always wanted his pitchers to attack hitters, and Dempster has done just that in his five spring innings with the Sox. The right-hander threw a first-pitch strike to all nine of the hitters he faced on Sunday. He threw 28 pitches, and 25 of them were strikes.
Now, obviously, you can’t throw every single pitch over the plate or else you’re asking for trouble in the long run. But Dempster has really been locating his pitches and working both sides of the dish, which in turn has kept his pitch count down. Clay Buchholz was lifted from Saturday’s game in the second inning because he had already thrown 40 pitches. That’s one start, but he and the rest of the team could benefit from having a guy like Dempster around going forward.
Last season, Dempster threw a first-pitch strike to 60.8 percent of the batters he faced. It’s not an astronomical stat by any means, but it tied a career high, and it obviously contributed toward some solid results. We may see that number rise in Boston this season, and the hope is that it will enable Dempster to be the workhorse he’s typically been and the workhorse the Red Sox so desperately need.
There was a lot to like about Dempster’s performance on Sunday, and Farrell was among those very impressed with the 35-year-old.
“His command was outstanding, very good location throughout,” Farrell told reporters in Fort Myers. “Threw three pitches for strikes once again. Extremely efficient.”
Efficiency. That word might as well be plastered in the lockers of the team’s entire pitching staff, because it’s something the Red Sox lacked last season. The team’s bullpen was taxed early and often because the starters were unable to pull their weight, and it ultimately led to the team’s demise — even more so than Bobby Valentine‘s managing, even though he became the face of the forgettable season.
Not a lot has changed in terms of the arms in Boston’s rotation, but the one added to the mix seems to enhance the unit as a whole.
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