He has confidence his 17th and, in all likelihood, final season in a Red Sox uniform will be a bit better.
And as some eye Wakefield's sporadic mop-up/spot start role as a minor one, there are indications that it could be a key component to the pitching staff as currently established, especially with a shift in his expectations.
"It would've been a lot easier going into the season knowing what I was up against," Wakefield said after his final appearance in 2010.
Wakefield went into spring training last year intent on being a starter, and was told he would have a job. When he was removed from the role after just four starts, two of which were very good, he was peeved. Knowing this time around what his job will be ahead of time should help. So, too, will the knowledge that Wakefield quietly performed pretty well out of the bullpen and had an OK season that was masked by his lack of a definitive role and a handful of ugly innings.
The veteran had a 3.60 ERA as a reliever, walking only three men in 25 innings. Not many observers noticed that he had the lowest ratio of walks per nine innings (2.3) in his entire career and that his strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.33) was the best it has been since 2003 and the third-highest of his career.
Additionally, as he set a new team standard as the oldest pitcher to earn a win in Red Sox history, Wakefield saw his innings increase from an injury-plagued 2009 campaign.
That, too, gives a guy who likely needs no confidence a little bit more entering 2011.
"It's been tough, but I'm proud of the fact that I actually got to the innings pitched that I got to this year, considering what happened last year and considering what was expected out of me this year," added Wakefield, who will enter his final year seven wins shy of 200.
While Wakefield was occasionally unaware of his role, or feeling a bit on the outs, the merits of having a guy with such flexibility is not without precedent. Although guys in similar spots rarely are useful in the postseason when managers stick to their very best starters and very best relievers, the regular season is another story.
In 2009, the Yankees got 10 wins out of Alfredo Aceves (against just one loss), who performed a variety of roles out of the bullpen, making at least one relief appearance in every single inning at least once. The 2007 World Series-winning Red Sox utilized Julian Tavarez all over the map. Sure, his 5.15 ERA left something to be desired, but he ate up innings when nobody else could on more than one occasion, making 23 starts and 11 relief appearances.
Two other championship teams from the past decade, the 2002 Angels and 2001 Diamondbacks, had such a pitcher. It was Scott Schoeneweis who pitched at least 13 innings in each frame from one through eight for Anaheim and Miguel Batista who served as Bob Brenly's renaissance man in Arizona, all before joining the rotation for the postseason. The Yankees had success for years with Ramiro Mendoza pitching in several capacities, from occasional starter to mop-up man.
When you have injury concerns within the starting rotation, as the Red Sox did in 2010, and an inconsistent bullpen, as the Red Sox did in 2010, having a guy who can perform in both roles is not without value. Having that guy in a better frame of mind, laying it all out in his final season and knowing what his role is can only help. That's why Wakefield feels that he will be a valuable member of the 2011 team.
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