With so much uncertainty at the back end of the Red Sox’ rotation, it will be interesting to see how Bobby Valentine handles his starting pitchers. Red Sox managers have usually been long-suffering with their starters, letting them bleed four, five, six runs before going early to the bullpen.
The conservation of the bullpen might be more important if there was not so much talent there. Despite the transfer of Daniel Bard to the starting rotation, there are some tested big league relievers and middle-men lining up to pitch in the early innings. After closer Andrew Bailey there is Mark Melancon, Matt Albers and Alfredo Aceves, who are proven in the late innings. If he is not a starter, Aceves can be strong in the middle innings and Sox also have newly acquired Vicente Padilla and Aaron Cook to work in the middle slot. These pitchers are much better than “mop-up” men; they have been starters and could be starters again.
Two other less consistent, but potentially strong middle-relievers are Andrew Miller and the former Toronto Blue Jay Jesse Carlson. It’s not clear if they’ll make the cut, but it would not be surprising to see thirteen pitchers on the roster to start the season.
Given this depth, it would be tactical to use the hook more liberally in the Valentine administration. Tito Francona had a sentimental attachment to starters and was not afraid to let them hang themselves before calling out to the bullpen. The more strategic managers in the American League, such as Joe Maddon and Ron Gardenhire, have had a quicker hook and a deeper bullpen. They never let their opponents get a four- or five-run lead before making their move. They kept the games close with whatever it took.
The Sox’ rotation is good, but not devastating. After Lester and Beckett, I wouldn’t depend on a starter finding his groove after giving up four runs. If a starter stumbles in the early innings, Valentine should go with his strength and summon the reinforcements. By keeping games close, he can force opposing pitchers to be careful and let his offense take back runs one or two at a time. This is how the Yankees and the Rays come from behind. The five-run lead is a morale-breaker.
Let’s put opponents on notice that the Red Sox plan to go 162-0 this year. Let “the hook” become the new symbol of the Sox’ intent to compete in every game.