Reliable Tim Wakefield Returns As Important Piece of Red Sox

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March 15, 2010

Reliable Tim Wakefield Returns As Important Piece of Red Sox The Red Sox will break camp with 25 players heading north to Boston. We
begin a daily look at each position on the club, from the projected
starters to their backups. Our latest installment continues to examine
the starting rotation.

Old reliable
As each day passes in Fort Myers, the chances that Tim Wakefield winds up in the bullpen to start the season become more remote. With Daisuke Matsuzaka struggling to even throw a pitch to live hitters, and Wakefield coaxing his 43-year-old frame through another solid spring, the Red Sox seemingly have their fifth starter.

If that is the case, it?s not like the club has to get used to anything new. Or has anything to worry about.

Wakefield?s 2009 campaign seemed to slowly slide down a hill, its erosion gaining momentum until he was ultimately shut down after a Sept. 21 start in which he gave up five runs and seven hits in three innings.

Somehow, however, the fact that Wakefield helped carry the club early on was lost.

The knuckleballer was 11-3 with a pair of complete games at the All-Star break, when Boston held a three-game lead in the American League East. He went 0-2 in four measly starts thereafter and the Red Sox finished eight games out of first place.

It?s safe to say Wakefield?s presence in the rotation was a factor.

If and when Boston goes another direction in 2010, that fact is worth remembering. Barring injuries, the veteran feels such a scenario should never occur.

?As long as I?m healthy during spring training and there are no setbacks during the season, I think I?ll be one of the five [starters],? Wakefield said before the Grapefruit League schedule began.

There are no issues with the first part of that statement.

Entering Monday?s start against Baltimore, Wakefield had thrown five scoreless innings during spring training. He had yet to walk a batter and was credited with one of the Sox? eight wins. In fact, it?s safe to say that of all the returning Red Sox pitchers, many of whom have been hit with injuries and inconsistency, Wakefield?s spring has been the smoothest.

Boston and Wakefield have perhaps the best relationship in baseball. For years the team had a perpetual $4 million option that was easy to pick up each year when it balanced dollars and cents with wins and losses. Although the Sox cut Wakefield?s salary in 2010, they offered a two-year deal to keep the era alive a bit longer and give their elder statesman security into his mid-40s, when other knuckleballers have continued to shine.

Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, who once said that Wakefield should succeed well into his 40s, won 16 games as a 45-year-old and 16 more the next year. Charlie Hough had a 3.93 ERA in 27 starts as a 44-year-old with the Chicago White Sox in 1992.

For what he has provided the team and the community, it would seem that Wakefield has earned the right to go out on his own terms. He?s made it clear that he would like that to be as a starter. At the very least, his 2010 season should begin in such a fashion.

Other options
All eyes are on the progress of Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz this spring. It would seem Buchholz has gone too far to be demoted to the ?pen and while they love what Wakefield?s given them over the years, the Sox cannot forget Matsuzaka?s 2008 season, when he went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. He is a dynamic starter if and when healthy.

Wakefield, meanwhile, has a 3.75 ERA in 141 career games as a reliever and a 4.39 mark as a starter. Although he?s vehemently opposed, a move to the bullpen could work.

If all else fails: Sox manager Terry Francona is fond of saying that things have a way of working themselves out. If such a working out process involves the ultimate loss of Wakefield, there would practically be a mourning process at Fenway.

However, the depth at the position in the system would make filling that hole easier than in other camps and with his status as a central figure in the organization, Wakefield will always have a role with the club.

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