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Southern notes: Webster gets relief
Lookouts right-hander seeing better results after bullpen stint
06/12/2012 10:24 AM ET
Allen Webster had a 1.13 ERA in five relief appearances.
Allen Webster had a 1.13 ERA in five relief appearances. (Meeks & Norris Photography)
Allen Webster wasn't moved to the Chattanooga bullpen in May because the Dodgers envisioned a new role for their No. 3 prospect or because the right-hander needed a pitching overhaul.

"He's got the best stuff in the league," insists Lookouts pitching coach Chuck Crim, despite the abundance of top pitching prospects in the Southern League this season.

But Webster was 1-5 in his first seven starts with an ERA of 7.49, and it was decided that the No. 74 prospect on MLB.com's Top 100 list needed a break after allowing 22 runs in three outings. Call it a mental timeout if you like.

"The baseball gods hadn't been good to him," Crim said. "He needed a change of scenery."

A two-week stint as a reliever offered that, and Webster's stat line went from negative to positive.

The right-hander posted a 1.13 ERA with 10 strikeouts over eight innings in five relief appearances. Mission accomplished.

Put back in the rotation, the 22-year-old looked more like the pitcher who had known almost nothing but success until this season.

Although he took a hard-luck loss against Jackson, Webster allowed just two hits and three runs over nine total innings in his first two starts after the two-week break. He had six strikeouts and three walks.

"The time in the bullpen just let me kinda get back in the flow," Webster said. "I feel good where I'm at now."

Webster, who made two Cactus League appearances for the Dodgers this spring, has a heavy mid-90s fastball, both a curveball and slider, and a developing changeup. All have the potential to be plus pitches.

But the native of rural North Carolina had primarily been a shortstop at McMichael High School when taken by the Dodgers in the 18th round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. As he moved up the Minor League ladder, his lack of polish began to show.

Although Webster came into this year with a 28-16 career record, Southern League hitters started to catch up with him the final month of last season after a late-May promotion to Chattanooga.

Webster ended July with a shutout, then had a 9.47 ERA in August. Something was off.

"Double-A hitters are a lot smarter," Webster said. "They're more patient. I have to be more accurate with my fastball. I need to hit my spots."

Webster's walk totals have never been high, and he had 45 strikeouts to 21 walks in 50 2/3 innings this season. But that doesn't mean he is without command issues at times.

"We didn't change too much," Webster said of his time in the bullpen. "We just sped it up a little bit to give me a little less time for error so I can repeat my delivery better."

"He has a tremendous fastball with a lot of movement," Crim said. "He just needs to control it a little better."

Part of getting ready for the Majors is learning to cope with adversity, sometimes for the first time. Webster has certainly experienced that this year.

"For a while, I just couldn't catch a break," he said.

The Dodgers organization, though, has never lost confidence in Webster.

"He'll get through this," Crim said. "His stuff is too good not to get through it."

"I'm just trying to get started back up again and get on a good note," Webster said. "All I can do is keep working."

In brief

Cunningham red hot: After batting .337 in May, Mississippi outfielder Todd Cunningham heated up even more in June. Atlanta's No. 14 prospect hit .366 for the first 11 games of the month and had a 10-game hitting streak through Sunday. Cunningham's overall .323 average was tied with Jackson's Nick Franklin for the Southern League lead.

Perfect no more: Huntsville's Tyler Thornburg lost a first-half game for the first time in two years when be was beaten by Mobile, 7-3, to fall to 8-1. The Southern League leader in victories gave up six runs -- four earned -- in 4 2/3 innings as his ERA jumped to 3.00. Milwaukee's No. 4 prospect was 7-0 in the first half last year for Class A Wisconsin before being promoted to Class A Advanced Brevard County.

Hernandez on DL: Birmingham left-hander Pedro Hernandez was put on the disabled list the day after having his seven-game winning streak snapped with a 7-5 loss at Mobile. He gave up eight hits and four runs in three innings as his record fell to 7-2 and his ERA went to 2.91. Hernandez had allowed just one earned run over 20 2/3 innings in his previous three starts.

Davis out again: Huntsville outfielder Khris Davis homered in his first game after missing a month with a strained calf, then ended up back on the disabled list after re-injuring himself the next day. The Brewers' unlucky No. 13 prospect had played in just 27 games with the Stars but was hitting .324 with a .442 on-base percentage.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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