Tagged: Juan Nieves

Last Man Standing

Ironically Clay Bucholz managed to avoid the Fire Sale of 2014 by having a dismal season far below expectations. His performance remains an enigma with curve balls sharp and lethal, but change-ups and cutters wild and unpredictable. No one vied for his services, so he is the last man standing in the Red Sox rotation.

That would not have been the case in July, 2013, when he was the subject of many inquiries about pitching. In the late Spring of 2013, he was the most dominant pitcher in baseball. In this space I lobbied for him to be Opening Day pitcher in 2014.

But the dominant Bucholz mysteriously disappeared while he was on the disabled list, so he became the problem instead of the prodigy.

It may be too soon to write off the talented Bucholz. He still shows some spectacular change-ups and the cutter often goes where he wants it to. Bucholz actually has the chance to head up a young and unproven pitching rotation. I’ll try not to oversell him this time, but I have seen the brilliant version (1.0) of Clay Bucholz and will not give up on its revival.

Juan Nieves has his work cut out for him, with a reconstituted pitching rotation, but he knows what he has with Bucholz. There might still be a dazzling return to the days of Bucholz 1.0

The Staff

Currently, a lot of speculation about who will compose the Red Sox pitching staff during the playoffs. No one asked me, but I want to put in good words for these pitchers:

Lester, Lackey, Bucholz, Peavy, Dempster, Uehara, Breslow, Workman and Britton.  What do they all have in common? They work fast and put the ball in the strike zone. Sometimes they get hit, even Uhehara, but they don’t fuss and fidget and walk around the mound, trying to summon the pitching gods to their aid. They look in, get the sign, and serve up another one. “Go ahead,” they are saying, “give it your best shot.”

It is well known that this is the gospel Juan Nieves and John Farrell have been preaching since Spring Training. The Josh Beckett era of delay and deliberation is over. Keep the game moving and let them hit what  you have to show them.  It has done wonders for the likes of Lester and Lackey, who have pitched with increasing confidence, pounding the strike zone as the year has progressed.  They are truly controlling the game with their aggressiveness, not letting the batter regroup with every pitch. It is a pleasure to watch. Uhehara’s rhythm is poetic, not a hesitation in his delivery, unless you want to count the hitch you see just before he delivers the ball.

Some have not gotten the message: Tazawa, Dubront and Thornton.  If they are in the zone, they can work quickly and get ahead of batters, but as the season waxes, they are increasingly behind. The hitters are waiting for their stream of pitches out of the strike zone, then getting their best shot on a 3-2 count.  I have small patience for these laggers, because they are not getting with the program.  They could all be dominant, but they choose to pick around the corners and fuss when they don’t get the strike calls they expect.

The first one to cut from the staff is Thornton, because he has not found the strike zone, since he came to the Red Sox. He is constantly in a 3-2 count, and then, naturally, walking the hitter.  If Dubront could work rapidly and pound the strike zone, he could be the second left-hander coming out of the bullpen behind Breslow. So, of the two lefties, I choose Dubront.

Apparently Farrell likes Junichi Tazawa, but he paces around the mound, making faces after every pitch. Lately he is all over place, rarely pitching where the catcher is holding his mitt.  Eventually he puts one right in the wheelhouse of some hitter, and the ball lands in the upper deck four hundred feet away. Clearly this is not what you want in a set-up man. I like the aptly-named Workman in his place, although Workman has had his own control issues lately. Workman, however, goes right after hitters, whether he has his best stuff or not. You have to admire that in a rookie.

Once the playoffs begin there should be no more free passes. Make them hit it, and let the other eight position players handle the results. Walks are poison. Thornton and Dubront? They have not proved they can do this. Britton? He started with confidence, but has lost his touch lately. Somehow a playoff staff will be assembled from these three left-handers and Tazawa. The one who regains his confidence and goes after hitters, should be the one who makes the cut.

This pitching staff should play ball, not play games on the mound.