This is why the top of the Red Sox rotation is so important. It is vital that the Big Three of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz pitch well this season. There's too much uncertainty surrounding the back end of the rotation.
Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard have three major league starts on their combined resumes. Bard hasn't served as a starter since he was pitching Single A ball in 2007; Doubront made his last big league start in 2010.
The Sox have gotten one quality start in three games to start the season, Lester's outstanding one-run, seven-inning performance on Opening Day. That was followed by Beckett's disastrous start on Saturday, and a 31-pitch, four-run first inning for Buchholz on Easter Sunday.
By the time Buchholz left the game after four innings, Red Sox starters had given up 15 runs in 15 2/3 innings.
Nothing has come easy for Sox starters so far. The Tigers put at least one runner on base in 15 of 16 innings started by the Sox rotation this weekend. That's not a very good WHIP. It's also not a very good recipe for success. If the Sox are going to succeed this season, they need Beckett and Buchholz to pitch better.
There are a lot of questions still surrounding this Sox pitching staff. With Beckett and Buchholz not lasting very long in their starts, the bullpen was used quite a bit over the weekend. On Sunday, Buchholz couldn't make it beyond the fifth inning. If it was 2010, Alfredo Aceves would've been the natural choice to come in and throw a few innings and protect the lead.
In April of 2011 that's not an option. Aceves is the closer, filling in for the injured Andrew Bailey. That's why Vicente Padilla came into the game to start the fifth. He did the job, becoming the first Sox reliever to throw a 1-2-3 inning this season.
Yet, the Sox may ultimately want Aceves to serve that role. Which is why Bard's start on Tuesday night in Toronto is so important. Bard wants to be a starter, and the Red Sox have been willing to let him try. That was before Bailey underwent thumb surgery on Monday. Now, they may need Bard at the back end of the bullpen.
Bard can end any talk of his return to relief duty with a good outing against the Blue Jays, and another against the Rays on Patriots' Day. Two good starts and Bard may be starting for awhile. Anything less, and fans are going to want him back in the pen. Especially if Aaron Cook pitches like he did on Saturday night for the PawSox (seven-inning, complete-game five-hitter).
We knew coming into the season that the back end of the rotation was untested. What we didn't know is that the top of that rotation would have so much trouble through the first weekend of the year. Beckett and Buchholz need to pitch better if the Sox are going to return to the playoffs in 2012.
That would also take a lot of pressure of the two young pitchers who will make their first starts of the season in Toronto this week.
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