The flocks have gathered for Spring Training, and it looks like the Red Sox are happy with the pitching staff and pitching prospects they have. Ubaldo Jimenez has signed with the Orioles, and the Yankees captured the pitching prize of the season in Tanaka. The Sox will match up with them with John Lester, Clay Bucholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Dubront and a cast of young, hopeful candidates.
No one in the rotation could be defined as a workhorse, with the possible exclusion of John Lester. They are not unfamiliar with the disabled list, especially Bucholz, who has yet to prove his arm has a full season in it. In spite of these questions the Red Sox seem to have a personnel strategy that runs counter to the American League East— bring on the youngsters!
The Red Sox have stocked their pitching staff with a number of home grown starters, considering Lester, Bucholz and Dubront, and they appear to have faith in the starters of the future in Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, Drake Britton, Rubby DeLaRosa, Anthony Renaudo, and Matt Barnes. Workman has already proven he can start in the Majors. He is good enough to replace anyone at the bottom of the rotation. And Webster seems to be on the brink of gaining some composure to go with this astounding curve ball. And the others appear to be bonafide contenders. So the odds of coming up with two more starters out of Spring Training are good.
The exit of Ryan Dempster is a signal to all of these prospects that arms are for hire in Fort Myers this spring. That is a good signal to send to young pitchers, who need to feel that their time is now. They have the opportunity to join the staff of World Champions and a manager who knows pitching talent. A vacancy is just what the Red Sox needed to get their attention and get them on the fast track to the Major Leagues.
I was perturbed by the Red Sox’ inaction in the pitching market over the winter, and I think they are taking a risk now by depending on unproven pitchers. But I like the risk and I like a pitching staff that has roots in the farm system. It shows confidence in the drafted talent, the coaching in the system, and in the principle of loyalty. The Red Sox may yet prove that team loyalty is not an outmoded concept and that the young arms have realistic hopes of throwing for the parent team as soon as 2014.
I’m through second-guessing John Farrell. The man has “gut” intimations that defy numbers or logic, and they mostly have worked magic in the 2013 World Series.
Choose the players with the lowest averages on the Red Sox and place them in critical roles, and you have Farrell’s formula for success. Bat Jonny Gomes against right-handed pitchers, and he makes the difference in Game Four with a three-run homer. Start the defensive-back-up catcher, David Ross, in three out of five games, and the dude bats in the winning run in Game Five. Start the woeful Steven Drew at shortstop and watch him plug up the infield and execute miraculous double-plays. Start the youthful rookie Xander Bogarts at third and watch him work pitchers for walks and take pitches to right field, when they venture into the strike zone.
Meanwhile you bench players with proven talent during the regular season: Mike Napoli, Jarrod Saltalamachia, and Daniel Nava. They have all started a couple of games, and they produced long at-bats and extra-base hits, when they did. (Except for Saltalamachia, who has slumped in the post-season). But they had to wait their turn, while the .220 hitters led the way.
Farrell deserves credit for his management of the middle innings pitchers as well. The starters and closers are no-brain decisions, but who to bring in for the fourth, fifth and sixth innings? So far Brandon Workman and Felix Dubront have proved nearly invincible in those roles. Probably they are logical choices for middle innings, but give him credit for seeing the vulnerability of Morales and Dempster and removing them from critical positions in the bullpen.
Bringing young talent like Bogarts and Workman along has been a specialty of the Farrell administration. Previous managers would never trust Pawtucket recruits in roles like this, but Farrell and his staff have hand-picked these rookies and turned them into Major Leaguers in a few short months. It shows not just an eye for talent, but for courage and maturity as well. For every Bogarts and Workman, there were several that did not make the cut this year.
So second-guessing is out of season for October. The World Series is not finished, but the record after five games is superb. Whatever hunches Farrell has left to play will be my hunches, too.
With all due respect to Jerry Remy and the traumatic circumstances of his absence from the broadcast booth, Dennis Eckersley deserves some notice as a baseball color man. I’ve always liked the Eck as a pitcher, but even more for his insights into the play-by-play.
As ruthless as he was as a pitcher, Eckersley is brilliant and compassionate as a commentator. He particularly knows pitching and pitchers, but he observes and comments with restraint, letting his judgment fall lightly on the players.
Tuesday night he mentioned the laid-back performance of Felix Dubront, contrasting it with the intensity Jake Peavy had shown on Sunday. He commented almost with admiration of Dubront, but soon the lefty was falling behind hitters and faced a bases-loaded, no-outs predicament. “He looks almost too relaxed,” Eckersley suggested.
Fortunately Dubront summoned his powers and escaped with only two runs scored following a ground out and a fly out. He took control of the game and pitched masterfully.
Yet it wasn’t the first time Dubront had walked his way into trouble. The pattern of pitching from behind in the count has bedeviled him for most of the year. He seems to blunder into the doldrums during most of his outings.
Eckersley brings deep knowledge of the game with a light touch. Sometimes insight into the game can breed contempt or frustration, when players aren’t performing up to their abilities, but Eckersley has the patience, as well as the insight, of a manager. He asks questions and wonders if mistakes could have consequences later in the game. I appreciate this kind of commentary, which invites me to participate in the analysis, rather than racheting up anxiety about the game.
When you consider what a no-nonsense pitcher Dennis Eckersley was, it surprises you how restrained he can be in the broadcast booth. There’s something about that tension between what he was as a pitcher and what he is as a commentator that makes him a pleasure to listen to.
I appreciate the Eck coming out of the bullpen, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him in the starting rotation of broadcasting again.