All winter long Red Sox fans were patiently waiting for their beloved team to sign a big..."/> All winter long Red Sox fans were patiently waiting for their beloved team to sign a big..."/>

The Curious Case of the Red Sox Rotation Battle Heats Up


All winter long Red Sox fans were patiently waiting for their beloved team to sign a big name free-agent pitcher.  But one by one, names like C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle and Edwin Jackson found homes other than Beantown and all the Sox fans were left with was a handful of rehabbing hopefuls, trying to make their way back to the big leagues.  Names like Jesse Carlson, Vicente Padilla, Aaron Cook, Carlos Silva, Ross Ohlendorf (who?) were the names who occupied the Red Sox headlines this winter.  Somewhere among those names is a pitcher who can prove he still has some gas left in the tank, at least that what Ben Cherington was hoping.

Rather than having a multi-horse race between the aforementioned, it has been a game of dominoes as we wait and watch another pitcher fall out of the running day-by-day. First it was Silva who never really shed his warm-up sweater. One shoulder inflammation flare up later and he’s again unemployed. Next it was Carlson who’s nagging back earned him a ticket to the minors.  Ohlendorf is hanging in there but let’s be honest, his sole purpose is to eat some innings so Bobby V won’t wear out his regulars.  Finally, we have Vicente Padilla as the latest starter casualty thanks to a hamstring injury that axed his hopes of pitching every fifth day.  While he still remains a bullpen possibility, Padilla could be used to spot start should the opportunity arise.

That leaves just Aaron Cook on that list as potentials to crack the rotation from Ben Cherington’s ‘buy low and hope like hell’ list.  Two weeks ago it appeared that Cook was destined for AAA Pawtucket after spring training when Bobby V thought he wouldn’t get enough innings in to contend for a spot.  As of today, that has all changed thanks to Cook’s stellar performances on the mound.

His sample pool is still small, just 9.1 innings of work, but his damage has been extremely limited, surrendering only five hits and two earned runs in his three starts.  He’s walked two and struck out four while cruising to a nice 1.93 ERA and a stellar WHIP of 0.86.  Now before you jump all over the fact that it’s only three starts and it is spring training where stats mean as much as the vows between Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries, look at the other candidates vying for the rotation.

Everyone was ready to write in Daniel Bard‘s name as the fourth starter but lately that engine has stalled.  After five shut out innings over his first two starts, Bard has struggled in his last two, going 7.2 innings, allowing 10 runs on nine hits, while walking seven and fanning just three.  His ERA this spring ballooned to John Lackey territory, 7.11 while his WHIP is a concerning 1.66.

Most of those numbers are a result of a horrendous start against the Cardinals where Bard looked out of place on the mound.  His last start against Toronto was better, going five innings and allowing three runs on three hits.  The positive out of the outing was that his arm felt good after throwing 83 pitches, a good sign for any starter.  But lately there has been lots of buzz around Bard heading back to the bullpen according to a team source.  Bobby V denied any such talk only admitting that Bard will make the team. Thanks Bobby.

Felix Doubront entered spring lighter in the weight department and heavier in the confidence area and that’s resonated in his statistics.  16.2 innings, 18 hits (8 in one game), five earned runs, six walks and 10 K’s converting to a 2.70 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP.  Good numbers for the lefty which is another feature the Sox could use in the rotation.

Finally we have Alfredo Aceves.  The seventh inning specialist from a year ago got rocked on Saturday against the Phillies which made his numbers flare up faster than Bobby Jenks blood alcohol content.  In his previous three outings he has been nothing short of stellar; nine innings, five hits, one earned run, no walks and eight strikeouts.  Despite the numbers Bobby V knows the value of having Aceves in the pen, a place I’ve always felt he should be.

There’s the nuts and bolts of the four finalists.  For now we’ll put Aceves in the pen, leaving three pitchers for two spots.  I like Doubront in the rotation for multiple reasons.  The first, he’s a lefty and to have two lefties out of five pitchers is something that would make the Sox a unique staff and potentially quite effective.

That leaves Cook or Bard for the final spot.  Cherington wants Bard as a starter and Bobby V is starting to lean towards putting him in the bullpen.  A power struggle is ensuing and for now we’ll put Bard in the rotation and Cook in AAA.  But only for the month of April.

Cook has an opt-out clause that take effect on May 1 if he does not have a major league contract by that point.  Start him in Pawtucket, see how Bard makes out in his first few outings and if need be recall Cook at the end of the month.  Sounds easy on paper but it will be far from simplistic in a week’s time.

Stay tuned as the curious case of the Red Sox starting rotation is heating up and only promises to produce some dramatic final moments.

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