Tim Wakefield, undeniably the heart and soul of the Red Sox franchise over the last two decades, has earned the respect of his peers, his fans, and teams around the league after appearing in 562 games since 1992. The knuckler has overcome injuries, the steroid era and an abundance of quivering catchers in his career, but heading into the 2010 season, he may not overcome a crowded rotation.
Due to the acquisition of John Lackey, the emergence of Clay Buchholz and the expected health of Daisuke Matsuzaka, many assume that Wakefield is the odd man out, the Boston Herald reports.
"It shouldn’t mean anything," Wakefield told the Herald on Tuesday, referring to the addition of Lackey affecting his 2010 role. "I did make the All-Star team last year. It seems every year, and I don’t know why, my name gets brought up like this when I don’t feel I need to prove myself every day. I don’t know where the rumors are coming from, but I try not to pay attention."
Assuming everyone is healthy, the simplest plan would be for the Red Sox to go with a six-man rotation. Buccholz is now a proven major leaguer, so a demotion to the minors would be the worst thing a team can do to the budding hurler. Matsuzaka, who has 33 combined wins in his first two (healthy) seasons, isn't going anywhere — nor should he be the target of trades based on his contract and potential (18-3, 2.90 ERA in 2008 at age 27).
But a six-man front doesn't always prove to work. In fact, it can often do more harm than good. Pitchers like Jon Lester, Lackey and Josh Beckett fall into hot streaks, where an extra day on the bench could cool them down. Even Wakefield, the ultimate finesse pitcher, is a product of the streak. Wake won five straight decisions heading into the break last season, and 11 of 13. While impressive first-half numbers won't guarantee a spot on any rotation, Wakefield is hoping his resume will at least give him a shot to prove himself.
"Hopefully, they respect me enough to give me the ball when we get to spring training as a member of this rotation," he told the Herald. "I think I’ve earned the right to be a full-time starter and go from there. … I know my role, and I know what my approach is going to be when I get to spring training: be a starter and help us win the World Series.”
The 43-year-old isn't heading into this season, his 18th, on a wing and a prayer. Just because he is financially stable, owns a couple of rings and has 189 career wins, Wake's plans are just to hope he gets through this upcoming season without a hitch.
The veteran is heading into 2010 as a competitive athlete who is putting his age and injury history aside — and hoping the coaching staff will too. He's put in his time and wants to see results, as well as a true shot at his longtime job as a Red Sox starter.
"It’s been a long road," Wakefield said in the Herald. "Right after the [back] surgery I was in rehab five days a week for an hour and a half a day. It’s been a long road, but it’s gotten me to the point where I can get back on the field and compete, and for that I’m thankful … Last year I was on my way to pitching 200 innings and then due to circumstances beyond my control — I didn’t hurt my shoulder, I didn’t hurt myself pitching, I hurt my back swinging in interleague — it didn’t happen. I don’t know who is saying I’m only a part-time pitcher, but I think some of their opinions might be based on not knowing how I was feeling. [Tuesday’s] visit [with the doctors] may have gotten rid of some questions marks they have."
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