Clay on the Mound

Red Sox at Orioles May 21, 2012

Who’s excited for this guy to get the start tonight??

Wanted: Starting Pitcher for Friday

The Red Sox are coming off a rare stretch during the long MLB season of just 5 games in 8 days. This light span allowed John Farrell to continue his 4-man rotation and not think about who should be their 5th starter going forward. With 16 straight games beginning today and no off-day until June 30, the Red Sox are forced into determining who should join the rotation going forward. Based on John Farrell’s comments on Sunday, I think he is approaching this situation all wrong.

“One of the things that we’ll factor in is we would look to match up as best as possible,” Farrell said. “On one series, is it a left-hander? The other series is it a right-hander? And we’ve got the flexibility to do that.”

It is a mistake to treat the 5th starter role with flexibility and base decisions on certain match-ups and here’s why…

Two of the names likely being considered for the call-up are Roenis Elias and Henry Owens. Elias has looked strong as of late, allowing 2 or fewer earned runs in 4 of his last 5 starts. In those 4 starts, he pitched at least 7 innings, including a complete game effort on June 5. He deserves a serious look. Owens has struggled a bit this year, but seems to be improving despite only completing more than 6 innings once in 10 starts with Pawtucket this year. 

By bringing up Elias or Owens for one start and then sending him back down, you aren’t allowing him to settle in to the routine and get comfortable with the team. There is immense pressure on that 1 outing, with the knowledge that they are likely done in the majors when they walk off the mound regardless of performance. The revolving door is a mistake. Bring up one of these guys and give them 3 or 4 consecutive starts to prove their worth. Let them settle into the team, the routine, the travel and give them a chance to spend time between starts with Carl Willis and the MLB staff. If you really want to develop these young players, give them a fair chance at proving their worth.  

The other option for the 5th starter role is Clay Buchholz. All I will say is no. He is terrible and should be back down in the minors, not in the bullpen. If Farrell choose Buchholz to start, he deserves to lose his job immediately.

My hope is that we see Roenis Elias for an extended period of time. He has proven his worth in AAA, has big league experience and has earned the right to prove himself with the Red Sox. In reality, I think Farrell is going to use guys as spot starters and miss a great opportunity.

Are the Red Sox a Legitimate Contender?

The short answer: No.

The longer answer begins with looking at the first 62 games of the season. On their third off-day in a week, the Red Sox sit at 36-26, tied for 1st place in the AL East with the Baltimore Orioles. On the surface, that’s a strong place to be 1/3 of the way through the year. Sitting atop a perennially great division while tied for the 2nd best record in the AL is reason to get excited, but the Red Sox roster still has several concerning holes.

We all know the Red Sox offense can score runs in bunches. They have scored 6+ runs in 30 games this year and eclipsed the double-digit mark 8 times, including 4 straight 10+ run games in early May. The bats have leveled off a little in June, but the lineup is potent top to bottom with different guys who can come up big on any given day. If everyone can stay healthy and no one dives into a deep slump (besides Travis Shaw’s current landslide) this offense is good enough to make a deep playoff run. The bigger concern is the pitching staff.

I know it’s been said 1,348,484 times this season already, but it’s still true: The Red Sox desperately need a top-tier starting pitcher. David Price has begun to look better as of late and hopefully is rounding into his ace self. Steven Wright has pitched like an ace, but we all know how finicky the knuckleball can be, especially over long periods of time. Rick Porcello has had some early success, but has allowed 3+ earned runs in 9 of his 13 starts and has been knocked out of the game before the 7th inning in 4 of his last 6 starts. After that, it’s a jumble of crap.

Eduardo Rodriguez has the potential to be great, but after coming back from his spring training injury, has not been the savior Red Sox nation had hoped. Clay Buchholz is in the bullpen because he is terrible, Joe Kelly is back in Pawtucket for the same reason, and the Red Sox have yet to name a 5th starter for this week because there is no obvious choice waiting in the wing.

The bullpen has been decent this year, but incredibly overtaxed. John Farrell is putting 41-year old Koji Uehara on the mound significantly more than he would like and placing Matt Barnes in high-leverage situations because he has no other choice. Craig Kimbrel has been very good this year, collecting 14 saves, but deep into the season and postseason, who bridges the gap to him? Will Koji and Tazawa have anything left in the tank? With the loss of Carson Smith, the Red Sox also need a late-innings bullpen arm to relieve the pressure.

All of this amounts to trouble the remainder of the season and certainly in the postseason unless some moves are made by the deadline. A common refrain is pitching wins championships and it tends to be true. Hitting can cover-up for mediocre pitching during the regular season, but the postseason exposes those weaknesses. 

In order to win a divisional series you need a strong 1-2 with a solid late-inning bullpen, but to win a championship series or World Series you need 3 strong starters and a deep, strong bullpen. The Red Sox have holes in both the rotation and bullpen. They have a ways to go before I declare them a legitimate contender.