It’s been reported that the Boston Red Sox are using pitcher Clay Buchholz as protection for the starters & the bullpen. So, when’s that going to start?
In late July, before the big trade deadline, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was reported, by Jen McCaffrey of MassLive.com, saying that “Right now he’s in our pen and protecting us as we go forward with the five starters […] He’s a real good protection for us.” Dombrowski’s decision to protect Buchholz, keeping him on the roster, was a good one. Working from the bullpen, Buchholz’s opposing batting average is .178 in 20.2 innings, allowing no home runs in that stretch. His average is second only to closer Craig Kimbrel‘s .155 in 42 innings.
Since that’s the case, why are the Red Sox not using him as protection when he’s needed the most?
One can argue that hindsight is 20-20, but someone else can also argue that blind faith is foolish in front of obvious facts. Hope for the best, yet one should plan for the worst. That planning was not on display in last night’s game against the Kansas City Royals in Fenway Park.
Boston started Eduardo Rodriguez on the mound, after pulling himself out of the August 16th game early with a sore left hamstring. Buchholz was sent back to the bullpen, after he earned victories in his last two fill-in starts for Steven Wright. On paper, there’s nothing wrong with that: Buchholz is supposed to be in bullpen as protection, and Rodriguez deserves the start since he allowed only three runs or less in each of his previous seven starts.
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However, a 2-5 record with a 5.11 ERA and recovering from an injury should have been warning signs for Red Sox managerJohn Farrell
to keep the hook close by, if needed. Instead, as often is the case, Farrell trusted his player and let Rodriguez pitch the sixth inning of the game, against one of the hottest teams in the majors. The Royals were on a hot streak in August, winning 16 out of their last 20 games, coming into Sunday night. They scored nine runs in the last two games against the Red Sox, swinging freely against healthy opposition let alone a pitcher coming back from an injured leg.
If that wasn’t enough warning, how about the fact that Rodriguez was getting hit hard, even in his outs. In the first inning, all three outs were pounded pitches and he also gave up a single and a walk. In the top of the second, Salvador Perez punished a first-pitch fastball for a leadoff home run. A single and a walk later, it looked like it would be a very long night for the 23-year-old righty. It took the Royals purposefully bunting and hitting a sacrifice fly for Rodriguez to get two outs in the inning, but it put Kansas City up 2-0. Even the inning-ending strikeout took six pitches. Flyouts and groundouts were the norm between the top of the third to the fifth.
The Red Sox scored four runs in the same span to set up their starter for the victory, yet Rodriguez’s pitches continued to take a pounding. Especially for a guy using a 93-mph fastball over 63% of the time, according to FanGraphs.com, it was pretty clear that Rodriguez was not on cruise control in those five innings. He had to battle hard in his return.
With that in mind, can’t the young man get some relief for that performance?
If Rodriguez would have been pulled after the fifth inning, people would have said what a trooper he was for bravely coming back and giving the Red Sox more than half of the innings they needed to earn the win. Instead, Farrell left the sophomore starter in the game, who proceeded to walk the leadoff batter, allow a double, another walk, and a flyout before a change was made.
It’s the middle of a game that the Red Sox need to win to keep pace with the American League East division leaders, the Toronto Blue Jays. The win is in sight, if they can just hold the Royals off for Kimbrel to close the door on them. It seems like the game called for protection. Wouldn’t that have meant Buchholz?
It, apparently, meant Matt Barnes was to come into the game. What’s Barnes’ opposing batting average for August? At that time, .244; after last night’s game, .308. Barnes began relieving Rodriguez by allowing a single, a triple, a fielder’s choice, and another single to make the score 8-4 for the Royals. Oh, and don’t forget the hit batsman by Barnes, as well. Rodriguez was now set up for the loss and Barnes was replaced by Robbie Ross Jr., who allowed his first batter to single and score two more runs.
Rodriguez officially allowed five earned runs on only four hits, four walks, and one strikeout in 5.1 innings. Barnes didn’t even record an out while giving up five earned runs of his own.
Where was Buchholz in all of this? Resting in the bullpen. He had pitched the night before, blanking the Royals for a full inning. He allowed only a walk, no hits. Was he tired? Buchholz threw 17 total pitches to induce three groundouts. Maybe he was overused in the previous start? The game was on August 23rd, five days before last night.
Farrell had his second-best reliever on the bench while the young starter got lit up past the midway point of the game, after returning from injury. Rodriguez was left in a game where he was not fooling anyone with his pitches. Any confidence issues that the kid may have had were magnified by leaving him in for the sixth inning, when the very protection for him was left to ride the pine. Dombrowski himself said that protection is Buchholz’s role with the team; he should have been part of the strategy last night before the first pitch was even thrown. Buchholz is a former starter, he’s been stretched out; one inning the night before isn’t going to phase his arm, especially when the Red Sox have counted on other relief pitchers to come into games nightly.
Hindsight still 20-20? There’s some glasses waiting for those proverb followers with Buchholz clearly visible in the frames. Enjoy!