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Remember at the All-Star break, when we all thought pitching was the deepest part of the ballclub? Josh Beckett and Jon Lester were pitching like aces, Tim Wakefield boasted an 11-3 record and was taking part in his first All-Star game, Brad Penny was pitching well and fans were still optimistic about John Smoltz’s comeback. Add the hype of young pitchers Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden and no one envisioned pitching to be one of our biggest needs. How quickly things can change.
Smoltz wore out his welcome by failing to post a quality start in his nine outings with the Red Sox. Tim Wakefield has not started a game since the All-Star break. Brad Penny has recorded only one win in his last 10 starts and the Red Sox were forced to call up rookie pitcher Junichi Tazawa to serve as the team’s fifth starter. Needless to say, it hasn’t been pretty as the Red Sox continue to battle with the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays for the wild card.
Wakefield is making his last rehab start (hopefully) for Triple-A Pawtucket and, if all goes well, he could join the Red Sox as early as next week while Dice-K is set to start a series of rehab starts in the minors and could join the Red Sox by Sept. 9.
With both Wakefield and Dice-K set to join the rotation by early September, who will get knocked out of the rotation?
Wakefield should be the first to return and it’s safe to say that Tazawa will be the first man forced out of the rotation. He will likely be sent down to Triple-A until rosters expand and then will provide some much needed depth in the bullpen. However, the situation gets a little trickier with the pending return of Dice-K as either Buchholz or Penny will have to get bumped from the rotation. We all know that Terry Francona loves to stick with his veterans, but maybe this time will be different.
His last three starts have been against stiff competition (C.C. Sabathia, Justin Verlander, Roy Halladay) and he has not disappointed. Buchholz has posted a 1.89 ERA in those three starts despite a 1-2 record due to a lack of run support. The youngster seems to have hit his stride and is the Red Sox third-best pitcher at the moment. He is a big part in the future of the Red Sox staff and they should show it by keeping him in the rotation during the most important month of the season.
The argument here isn’t performance-based because if it was then there would be no competition. It is no secret that Penny has been atrocious as of late, but the fact is Francona loves to stick with his veterans. Pair that with the Penny’s $5 million salary and that is a steep price for a middle reliever. Penny also has more big game experience, which is important as the season winds down and the pressure of the wild card race becomes more intense.
The bottom line is you need to put the players on the field that give you the best chance to win. Much like John Smoltz was released and David Ortiz was dropped in the lineup, Brad Penny has gotten to that point where he is not performing at the necessary level needed to make that final push into the playoffs. Clay Buchholz struggled in the beginning, but lately he has shown flashes of dominance and great poise in big games. Barring a huge collapse, Francona should go against his tendency to side with the veteran and keep Buchholz in the rotation instead. It would send him the wrong message to demote him to the bullpen.