The Red Sox made waves Sunday by confirming that Tim Wakefield will be sent to the bullpen. While most analysts and onlookers wondered how the move will affect the team’s relief corps, perhaps it makes sense to worry about the effect it will have on the starting rotation.
It’s hard to say it is in better shape than the bullpen.
With Josh Beckett’s implosion Monday in Toronto, the Sox hit the 20-game mark of the season still waiting for a quality stretch from the rotation, which figured to be one of the strengths of the club. After Beckett was pounded for eight runs in just three innings, the Boston rotation’s ERA rose to an offensive 5.56, 13th in the American League.
And of the last 10 outings by a Red Sox starter, it was Wakefield, the outcast once again, who had the best line, going 6 2/3 innings Sunday against Baltimore and leaving with a 4-1 lead.
Four of the other nine starts in that span have seen at least seven runs surrendered by the starter. Beckett has done so twice in a row. He is not a candidate for the bullpen by any means, but the long wait for consistency is getting to be a bit of a concern.
After the Red Sox’ 13-12 win Monday in Rogers Centre, that concern only grew.
“The numbers tell everything. They’re not good,” said Beckett, whose ERA rose to 7.22. “It’d be one thing if you didn’t feel good, but I feel good…You have to execute pitches and make adjustments and I’m not doing that.”
Even through two scoreless innings, Beckett was hit hard. He stranded runners on second and third in the first and gave up a ringing double and a fly to deep center to end the second. Then, amid flat fastballs and hanging curves, his night took a dramatic turn.
The start of the third inning went like this: triple, single, fly out, double, double, single, home run.
The fourth began with two walks, and that was enough for manager Terry Francona.
“A lot of pitches, too much of the plate, a lot of hits,” Francona said of the outing. “After we scored [six runs in the fourth to take a 7-6 lead], we’re gonna try to let him go back out there because we know where we are in the bullpen. He walks the first two hitters. It’s hard to stick with him.”
Beckett’s early evening gave Francona the challenge of piecing together six innings, a heavy dose of pressure for a bullpen in the opener of a six-game road trip. It took six relievers to reach the end, after which the ‘pen — which has a 4.24 ERA — led the AL with 70 innings pitched.
Not exactly what was expected when a rotation was assembled with visions of a quality start after quality start.
Oh yeah, the Sox are last in the AL in that category, producing a paltry eight so far.
“First and foremost you want to win the game,” Francona said of the challenge involved in managing when your starter is out after three innings. “But when you’re looking up that early you’re trying to figure out how much can your bullpen give you.”
If Beckett is searching for some sort of excuse, he could point to the issues he has had throughout his career at Rogers Centre, where his ERA after six starts now stands at 9.28. But even a casual observer could see that what Beckett was throwing Monday would not translate to success in his own backyard.
If he is looking for a pick-me-up, he could look to last April. The right-hander gave up 23 earned runs in 28 2/3 innings in April 2009, but was 15-4 with a 3.33 ERA thereafter. Eerily, he finished this April giving up 23 earned runs in 28 2/3 innings.
Until that turnaround occurs, the pressure on Beckett and the rest of the rotation will only increase, no matter how many attention-grabbing moves are made in the bullpen.