Allen Webster got the ball on the ground, and in return, Pawtucket got the right-handed hurler his first win of the season.
Boston's No. 4 prospect notched 10 of his 18 outs via ground balls while logging six three-hit shutout innings as the PawSox topped the Syracuse Chiefs, 7-1, on Tuesday. Webster added three strikeouts and allowed two walks in his first win of the season.
Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles credited Webster's success to his willingness to trust the sink on his mid-90s fastball. His use of that pitch allowed him to induce weak early contact and set up his offspeed pitches, including a slider and a changeup.
"He has real good sink to his fastball," Boles said. "He got early contact too. He has life to his fastball. He definitely had it going tonight."
Inducing groundouts has long been a strength for Webster. The right-hander posted a 2.05 groundout-to-flyout ratio between Double-A Chattanooga and Portland in 2012, and followed that with a 1.38 mark in 21 Triple-A starts with Pawtucket in 2013.
The hurler achieves gaudy ground-ball totals with a "fastball [that] sits in the mid-90s with heavy sinking action," according to MLB.com's prospect team, an ability that's kept his home runs-per-nine innings to a slim 0.4 in his seven-year Minor League career.
The ground-ball tendencies evaded Webster in his Major League debut last year. The right-hander allowed seven homers in 30 1/3 innings with Boston, which led to an 8.60 ERA over eight appearances (seven starts).
Webster again struggled to keep the ball on the ground in his 2014 debut, allowing a homer and posting a 0.25 groundout-to-flyout ratio while allowing three earned runs in 3 2/3 innings against Lehigh Valley on April 3.
The Greensboro, N.C., native returned Tuesday with more consistent mechanics, Boles said, leading to sharper fastball command and better deception on his offspeed pitches.
"I thought he had real good mound presence," Boles said. "His direction to the plate with his delivery, he stayed in line with home plate. He had good fastball command, worked ahead. He had a quality slider and change and had good hand speed with all three pitches.
"His delivery really synched up. He was able to get his arm to a consistent release point and in a consistent position."
The PawSox got a boost from second baseman Justin Henry, who hit his first homer of the season and finished 2-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs. The 28-year-old was playing in the second game since the birth of his second daughter, Annalise Elizabeth, last week. Henry scored the game-winning run in Pawtucket's 3-2, 10-inning win over Syracuse on Monday.
"He just got back to us," Boles said. "He got himself ready, got a workout in and his legs underneath him from all the travel, got that stuff behind him.
"He's put together some real good at-bats. He has a high frequency of contact. He makes pitchers utilize their mix. He sees pitches and works deep counts. He does a nice job working deep into counts, has a real good approach at the plate."