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Tim Wakefield Keeping Josh Beckett’s Spot Warm?

Josh Beckett (Associated Press/Charles Krupa)

Josh Beckett is slated to return from the 15-day DL on June 3, and his first attempt to get the ball rolling on his 2010 campaign was scheduled for June 5.

Key word being was.

That time-table just got a whole lot hazier with Sunday’s announcement that Beckett won’t even attempt to throw another side session until his lower back feels 100% healthy.  Beckett threw a side session on Friday, and pitching coach John Farrell didn’t like Beckett’s drifting arm slots, so instead of risking further injury to the back, or his shoulder, management made the decision to slow down his rehab process.

Obviously, the Red Sox would love to get their ace out on the mound every fifth day, but since his last start, the Red Sox are 10-3. The dominant “on-paper” rotation we thought Boston had entering the season, finally seems to be coming around, in Josh Beckett’s absence.

Beckett’s been flailing this season, to the tune of 7.29 ERA through eight starts, and even that doesn’t FEEL as high as it should be. He’s walking more and striking out less, his K/BB ratio (2:11) is as low as it’s been since 2006.

Is His Spot Still Safe?

Since his outstanding 2007 season, followed by an even more dominating postseason, Beckett has garnered the label “ace”.  In actuality, since the beginning of the 2008 season, Jon Lester has quietly been the better pitcher, and that’s continued into this season.  Jon Lester will again be Boston’s game one starter come October.

There is no clear-cut second spot in the rotation anymore, at least in my opinion. The emergence of Clay Buchholz this season has been astounding, and fun to watch. The prospect with the best pure stuff in the rotation, who Boston’s refused to trade for the likes of Johan Santana is finally all grown up.  Theo Epstein’s patience has given the Red Sox rotation enough depth to absorb the loss of Beckett for the time being.

As well as Lester and Buchholz have pitched, the trio of Lackey, Wakefield and Matsuzaka have been equally inconsistent.

John Lackey has failed to live up to his billing as another “ace” but with his solid track record, you can only expect his numbers to improve.  Matsuzaka’s start against the Phillies last week may have bought him a few more weeks, but walking eight Kansas City Royals doesn’t instill any confidence going forward.

Sidenote on Matsuzaka: In all of my years of watching baseball, I can’t remember a single player rendering a baseball game completely unwatchable.  He makes Tim Wakefield outings look like a Formula-1 race. He makes me wish NESN would surprise me with a three…err four-hour marathon of Charlie Moore Outdoors.

Is Wake The Odd Man Out, Again?

As fans, we all love Wake, for what he’s done for the franchise, and what he continues to do. He’s now on the cusp of becoming the franchise’s all-time leader in wins, but he’ll have to reach that mark as a spot starter.

You can’t honestly expect me to sit here and defend Wakefield as the fifth starter, over Beckett, or anyone else in the rotation, yes, even Matsuzaka.

Wakefield’s role on this team will severely be diminished with Beckett’s return, but his ability to make a spot start here and there and avoid those Abe Alvarez type double headers come mid-July is invaluable. Not to mention he’s stretched out right now; the Red Sox bullpen as currently constituted has a single reliever in it right now capable of going more than one inning, and that’s Joe Nelson. I’m not even sure I want Joe Nelson pitching at all, let alone two or three innings in a meaningful game.

Nobody else in the rotation has the ability or experience to go into the bullpen flawlessly and as quietly as Wakefield can.  Plus it’s nice not having to cook the entire bullpen the next time Matsuzaka decides to take the Royals for a walk in the fifth inning.

Beckett Going Forward

I feel weird saying this, but hopefully he was hurt BEFORE he decided to tap out against the Yankees on May 18.  A slow start is a slow start, but 45 innings of work is a fairly decent sample size, and would lead you to believe he hasn’t been healthy all season long, contrary to what he says.

That being said, I think if Beckett is able to get back to full health by mid-to-late June, he’ll be able to piggyback on the recent success of the rotation until he’s able to re-establish himself safely as our number two guy.

Beckett’s career Batting Average Against (.245) has almost never wavered, and once he gets healthy we can expect his tally at the end of the year to land somewhere in that ballpark. His win total, as expected will take a fall, and depending how long he’s out, that ERA may stay bloated for the duration of the year. The most important part of Beckett’s game, fortunately is more than four months away. His seasons with the Red Sox are no longer measured by his end-of-year totals, but since 2007 we’ll always measure THAT Beckett to the current Beckett.

The last two seasons, by that measure, have been a failure on his part. It’s very possible that although he’s hurt now, the rehabilitation Coach Farrell is enacting now may pay dividends when the real season begin comes October.

About Robert McLeod

Robert McLeod Stats: Age: 22 Gender: Male Favorite Sports: Baseball, Football, Basketball, Hockey, Soccer, Fantasy Sports Favorite Boston Players: Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Wes Welker, Jerod Mayo, Tuuka Rask, Rajon Rondo Other Hobbies: School, Wiffleball, Snowboarding, Madden, Call of Duty, Movies, Sports Radio Contact: robert at sportsofboston.com Bob Rodgers made me the man I am today. Hopefully I'm the first, and the last to ever utter those words. Before jumping on the bus to school, watching the old SportsDesk hosted by Bob was as necessary as brushing my teeth and eating breakfast. Since those early mornings, I've loved everything about Boston sports. Currently, I'm a senior Journalism major at UMass-Amherst and hope to be graduating this May. I began my college career as a business major at UMass Dartmouth, and realized I hated everything about accounting, debits, credits, my professors bow-tie, and everything inbetween. So I decided to pursue my passion, and write about sports for a living.

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