Red Sox Take Heed to Age-Old Pitching Adage

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Red Sox Take Heed to Age-Old Pitching Adage You can never have too much pitching.

In 2006, the Red Sox were loaded with pitching at the start of
spring training — but a March trade jettisoned one starter, and
injuries to other hurlers decimated the Sox’ playoff hopes.

Again, that was 2006. Bronson Arroyo was traded during spring training for Wily Mo Pena, the blossoming slugger who never quite blossomed. Matt Clement made just 12 starts before season-ending shoulder surgery in September. Mike Timlin struggled and spent time on the disabled list. Keith Foulke was ineffective as the closer and spent more than two months on the DL. Jonathan Papelbon, who took over as closer and was highly effective, was shut down Sept. 1 with shoulder problems.

The truth of that old pitching adage was reinforced for the Sox that season.

Which is why we will see a six-man rotation — however temporarily —
to start the second half of this season. A six-man rotation that
doesn’t even include Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is on the disabled list and rehabbing in Ft. Myers.

Clay Buchholz is expected to be called up from
Triple-A Pawtucket to start Friday in Toronto. After posting a 7-2
record with a 2.36 ERA in 17 games with the PawSox — including a
complete-game shutout and a near perfect game against Louisville on May
25 — this will be his first major league start since Aug. 20, 2008, in
Baltimore, when he lasted just 2 1/3 innings and faced 14 batters,
allowing five runs on three hits and three walks. After that
appearance, he was exiled to Double-A Portland, lugging a 2-9 record
and a 6.75 ERA with him.

He is expected to be followed by Brad Penny, Jon Lester, John Smoltz, and All-Stars Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield.

“Some of the reason behind that is with two starters at the All-Star
Game, there was going to be a lot of — not indecision, but not sure of
what’s going to happen,” said Sox manager Terry Francona.  “So we want to line everybody up and not have anybody leave and have to, you know, tell [John] Smoltz,  ‘Watch the All-Star Game and if Wake pitches, you throw a side after the game.’

“It just didn’t make a lot of sense. We’re trying to incorporate
rest, trying to keep everybody on consistent [rest], not one guy on 10
days, one guy on 15. We’re real comfortable with the way this is
setting up.”

And Buchholz was the obvious, if short-term, choice for Friday.

“It’s right on his day, and it really sets up our rotation a little
bit,” Francona said. “We wanted to be consistent with our guys’ rest.
There’s a day off [Thursday and July 23]. A week in, everybody will get
one turn through. We wanted to see [Buchholz] pitch, too. There’s a lot
of reasons for it. Coming out of the break, that’s typically a tough
game. We have four days off. We think there’s some validity to give
Buch the ball and let him go. And I think this will help us all the way
around.”

It’s a luxury very few teams have.

“I think any team would like to have that kind of a problem,” said
one scout. “Daisuke was really ineffective, so they shut him down, and
Smoltz comes back. He’s been OK for them. He hasn’t pitched against the
metal of the division yet, but he’s been OK. Now, they’re adding
Buchholz? There aren’t many teams that can do that.”

Behind Buchholz in the pipeline is Michael Bowden,
whose record (3-4, 3.32 ERA in 16 starts) has not been up to par this
season. But the 22-year-old right-hander has stepped in before to shore
up the big league staff: once this season as a reliever, and once last
season as a starter. In his major league debut on Aug. 30, 2008, he
earned the win against the White Sox, allowing two runs in five innings.

Daniel Bard, who made his big league debut May 13, has been the bullpen’s most consistent hurler recently. Before Kansas City’s Ryan Freel
reached on an error to lead off the eighth inning against Bard, the
righty had retired 22 consecutive batters.  Since allowing four earned
runs June 14 in the Sox’ 11-6 loss to the Phillies, he has given up
just two earned runs (four total) in his last eight outings, spanning
10 innings. Of the last 47 outs he has recorded, 23 have been by way of
the K.

Some have speculated that Buchholz is starting Friday against the Blue Jays in Toronto to showcase him in a possible trade for Roy Halladay.
As Francona stated, that is unlikely, and the plan is to return
Buchholz to Pawtucket soon.  Buchholz, who was in contention for the
fifth spot in the rotation in spring training — losing out to newcomer
Penny — has stated throughout the season he is certain that once he
makes it back to the big leagues, he will be there to stay.

However, the Sox’ third pick (42nd overall) in the 2005 draft softened his stance after learning of his promotion Sunday.

“I’ve been with the [Red Sox organization] for four years now,” Buchholz told the Pawtucket Times.
“I’ve shown things that I can do and when things go wrong. If I’m up
there for one start and back down here, it’s definitely a step in the
right direction. We’ll see where [Friday] leads me.

“Opportunities come up and I’m glad I was the guy they went to for it.”

That same afternoon, right-hander Casey Kelly,
Boston’s No. 1 pick (30th overall) in 2008 out of Sarasota (Fla.) High
School, pitched a perfect inning for the U.S. team in the Futures Game
as part of the All-Star festivities. In 17 starts between Single-A
Greenville and High-A Salem, he compiled a record of 7-5 with a 2.08
ERA, with 74 strikeouts in 95 innings, holding opponents to a .190
average. He has reported to Ft. Myers and the Gulf Coast League, where
he will play shortstop for the remainder of the season — an agreement
worked out between Kelly, who prefers playing the field, and the team,
which prefers him on the mound.

But the value of these prospects isn’t only their on-field
performance; it’s also as a commodity. Whether it’s for Halladay or
some other premium player, these young guns are likely to be among the
pitchers sought by another team in any potential trade.

As the July 31 trading deadline approaches, the names of Buchholz, Bard, Bowden and Kelly will likely garner much attention.

But the Sox know you can never have too much pitching.

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