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Clay Buchholz’s Hamstring Another Cause for Concern for Red Sox Staff

The Red Sox are more reliant on Clay Buccholz's health than ever before this season. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz suffered a mild hamstring strain last Tuesday during Spring Training fielding drills, and while both the pitcher and team have been optimistic that the injury isn’t a big deal, there is still serious cause for concern.

The Red Sox have been plagued over the last few years by pitching injuries, which have corrupted their depth at the postion and ultimately caused their demise as a playoff contender. The offense has always been there, and this season shouldn’t be any different after some notable offseason acquisitions and the return of the healthy veteran core to the lineup. It’s the starting pitching that is a huge question mark, as always.

2011: A loaded roster falls apart

In 2011, the Sox were arguably the favorites in all of baseball, after acquiring both Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. However a commonly observed weakness was the bottom of the lineup, as opposed to pitching depth, which largely did them in as they were eliminated on the final day of the regular season.

When the year started, the team lined up a starting five of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Buchholz, and Daisuke Matsuzaka, with plenty of insurance waiting in the wings. The team foresaw veteran Tim Wakefield, along with younger players Felix Doubront, Alfredo Aceves, Andrew Miller, and possibly Michael Bowden as candidates to make a few starts should injuries occur. That’s a total of ten possibilities to fill the rotation, yet by season’s end names like Erik Bedard and Kyle Weiland were making starts.

2012: Disaster strikes as team implodes

In 2012 there was uncertainty across the board with the roster entering the season, but again an overwhelming amount of optimism existed for the starting rotation, which was to be reliant upon both Aceves and Daniel Bard as starting pitchers. Bobby Valentine’s team had three insurance arms signed in the offseason (Carlos Silva, Aaron Cook, and Vicente Padilla), of which only Padilla proved to be effective to any extent and that was as a reliever.

That team didn’t expect Bard to have a mental implosion, or new closer Andrew Bailey to be down for most of the season, or the other late-inning acquistion Mark Melancon to struggle mightily. In a way, that’s how sports as a whole generally operate. But in baseball it’s even more natural to expect the unexpected.

So the team must move forward with extreme caution in preparation for the 2013 season. This small injury to Clay Buchholz may be just that, but the risk of injuries to a pitching staff will be detrimental to this team’s ability to compete.

2013: Pitching staff full of question marks

As of today, the 2013 Red Sox plan on using a rotation led by Jon Lester and Clay Buccholz. And if those two are already unpredictable, things only digress from there. Felix Doubront came into camp in questionable shape and is a tough bet to return to what he gave the team last year. Free agent acquisition  Ryan Dempster (35 years old) was bad last year with the Texas Rangers after starting the year out strong in Chicago with the Cubs. And John Lackey returns at last, in better shape and eager to prove himself to the fans of Boston.

After that, the Sox have Franklin Morales, an undefined stellar left-handed option who had several strong starts last season. Alfredo Aceves needs to get his attitude together before the front office decides he’d be more valuable as a trade chip than a part of the roster. And we’re all waiting to see if Rubby De La Rosa becomes a significant team for the big league club at any point this year.

The reason it’s hard to be optimistic about the Sox this year isn’t necessarily a weakness in their projected rotation, but the “what ifs” that come along with injury concerns, as every team deals with nearly every year. What if Lackey throws out his arm or Dempster can’t bring his best stuff to Boston or Buchholz never recovers from these seemingly small injuries? This team could go from a serious contender to the basement in the American League East, a position they are familiar with, all too well.

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