Talkin Sox with Dan

Where baseball fans gather for commonsensical, opinionated Red Sox banter.

Archive for the tag “Mike Aviles”

My Thoughts on John Farrell

John Farrell was officially hired as the 46th manager in Red Sox history on Sunday. Ben Cherington and Co. got their man. And Sox fans should be happy about that. Here’s why.

This time last year Blue Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos wanted Clay Buchholz in exchange for John Farrell. It was just one year ago that the Jays’ front office thought that Farrell was worth a pitcher who is good and has the potential to be a legitimate front of the rotation starter. The Red Sox obviously rebuffed the Blue Jays’ request and hired Bobby Valentine. One year later, the asking price dropped considerably as the Jays accepted infielder Mike Aviles in exchange for their manager who still had one-year remaining on his three-year deal. Detractors have pointed to Farrell’s questionable in-game management (overly aggressive on the base paths) and the disruptions within Toronto’s clubhouse. It is accurate to say that there are fragments of truth buried in each of those two criticisms. However, the fact remains that just 12 months ago the Jays thought very highly of their former skipper–enough to demand Buchholz in return.

Farrell knows the demands that come with managing a baseball team that plays in Boston. There are no surprises here. Farrell served as the pitching coach from 2007-2010. He oversaw a staff that won a World Series, and one that went all the way to Game Seven of the ALCS. He knows the landscape, the demands, and many of the players. Familarity, coupled with two years of separation from the tumult in Boston, makes Farrell a nice fit.

The hiring process was completed relatively quickly. This could have carried on for awhile. Figuring out compensation for a manager or front office executive is never easy as we saw with the Theo Epstein to the Cubs saga last year. The Red Sox, however, were able to acquire Farrell in a reasonable amount of time. This will allow them to begin the process of assembling their 2013 squad immediately. And that, of course, is the most important part of the offseason.

Farrell was the unanimous choice by everyone involved in the selection process. That means John Henry, Larry Lucchino, and, most importantly, Ben Cherington agreed that Farrell was the best choice. Remember that that was simply not the case last time around. Cherington did not want Valentine. Lucchino did. Lucchino won. There was dysfunction from the beginning. Things go smoother when everyone is pulling in the same direction.

Is Farrell perfect? No. Does he have his warts? Yes. Most importantly, is he the right man, at the right time for the job? Time will tell. In the meantime, there is no doubt that his hiring has restored a sense of order, a feeling of confidence about the future of this team–something that players, brass, and fans alike can appreciate.

Quietly Unproductive

The Red Sox misbehaved. Their starting pitchers have been escorted to the principal’s office, while the members of the offense got to take their recess.

Somehow, the hitters have gotten off the hook. And I don’t believe that’s very fair.

The arms and the bats have worked together to get this team in the perilous situation it is in.

Have the starting pitchers, notably Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz, fallen well short of their preseason expectations during the first half of  the 2012 season? You bet. If you could augment only one area of this ball club as it is currently constituted, starting pitching would be the unanimous selection.

Pitching has been so consistently terrible throughout the course of the season that it has actually drawn attention away from the deficiencies of the offense. The first three weeks of the season, it was the bullpen taking the grenades. Alfredo Aceves and Co., have righted the ship, but the starters have not experienced the same success.

When one is asked about the failures of the 2012 squad, it is almost instinctual to immediately point towards the top of the starting pitching staff. The Red Sox have lacked consistency since the first toss towards home plate of the season was thrown in Detroit, but one theme for this team has remained the same–it is the pitching, not the hitting, that is to blame.

Beckett is an apathetic boat anchor on a staff that doesn’t need any help sinking. Buccholz cares more about vodka and partying than he does about the welfare of his team. Lester is fat.

These days, it seems as though whenever a starter not named Felix Doubront or Aaron Cook toes the rubber, fans, writers, and experts alike almost root, or at least expect, a poor performance. It has become trendy to hate the Red Sox, especially the three “aces”.

Whenever there is a scapegoat, there is a person or group of people tiptoeing away, looking over their shoulder, hoping that no one notices.

The point is not that the Red Sox lineup deserves the bear all, more, or even an equal share of the burden for the failures of the team as a whole. Instead, it is to highlight that its league-wide perception of being comprised of a group of hitters who consistently throw up crooked numbers against the opposition at will does not quite run parallel to the reality of the situation.

Let’s get a couple things out of the way now.

1) This is a lineup that has operated without two of its biggest offensive pieces for the majority of the season. Yes, it is true that Carl Crawford has yet to appear in a regular season game, and Jacoby Ellsbury has been sidelined since the home opener. Ellsbury’s absence has certainly taken a toll, especially when the Sox have faced right handed pitching. Crawford, on the other hand, is paid like a savior but is far from one. Evan Longoria, you’ll remember, has played in a grand total of 23 games for offensively bereft Rays. It wouldn’t be difficult to make a case that he is more vital to his team than any other player is to his respective squad in all of baseball. Have injuries negatively impacted this team? Of course. But don’t look to the DL for bailouts–the Red Sox have enough bullets in the chamber to spare a couple and still have enough to succeed.

2) The Red Sox offense, for all intents and purposes, has been good. Through 86 games, Sox hitters have produced 432 runs, good for second in Major League Baseball. At the same time, it is important to keep in mind that the Red Sox are stellar in blowouts and lackluster is close, grind-‘em-out games. They’re excellent at winning the contests that lack pressure and relatively poor in the white-knuckle affairs.

Despite the Red Sox statistically robust offense, they often corner themselves into situations that require a clutch hit in order to score a run. In other words, Sox hitters, in spite of those classic 10-5 wins, tend to put themselves in favorable situations at the beginning of innings, only to fail to produce productive outs in key situations that ultimately lead to a plethora of stranded runners and missed opportunities. 

Essentially, the Red Sox have a hard time hitting their foul shots.

Free and easy opportunities to score runs without getting a base hit do not often present themselves in close, well-pitched games. Let’s take a look at two recent, glaring examples that occurred in back-to-back innings in a game that should have been an easy win.

On July 3rd, while the East Coast was getting ready to celebrate its independence, the Red Sox were busy giving away a victory. In the top of the eighth inning, the Sox were clinging to a 2-1 lead. Here is how the inning unfolded:

Pedroia walk — Pedroia steal — Ortiz walk.

As a reminder, that is a runner on first and second with no one out, and Cody Ross due up. The best case scenario here is obviously a base hit by Ross. But here, expectations are not that high. It would be unfair to ask the powerful righty to lay down a bunt, and a ground ball to the right side could easily result in a double play. It is fair, however, to look for Ross, at the very least, to lift a semi-deep fly ball to right, right-center, or center field–all three of which would have resulted in Pedroia tagging up and getting to third base with less than two outs, a prime run-scoring position.

Instead, Ross failed to produce a productive out and struck out swinging. At this point, the Red Sox officially lost the opportunity to score a “free run”. They now needed a base hit to record any insurance in a tight ballgame.

Adrian Gonzalez came to the plate and drove a deep fly ball to center field, which is the exact result the Sox needeed one batter earlier. Pedroia tagged and went to third. First and third with two outs. Jarrod Saltalamacchia proceeded to strikeout looking to end what initially appeared to be an extremely promising inning.

Thanks to some nifty pitching in the bottom of the eighth by Vicente Padilla, the Red Sox headed to the top of ninth still gripping a one-run lead. Here is how the inning unfolded:

Ryan Kalish single — Mike Aviles walk.

Here we go again. First and second, no one out–a situation where the Red Sox had the opportunity to score a run without a hitter getting a base hit. Nick Punto is headed towards the dish, the players on the field and the dozens of people at O.co Coliseum knew the bunt was coming. Punto squared and attempted the bunt, which was popped up and resulted in a double play for the Athletics. Kalish, for some strange reason, attempted to steal third and was promptly dispatched to end the inning.

Aceves went on to blow the save, as the Athletics came back to the tie and win the game in the bottom of the ninth. The loss went to Ace, but it really belonged to the Red Sox offense.

In close, well-pitched games, the margin for error is slim and opportunities are few and far between. Runs are often not doubled home or delivered by a round tripper. Instead, they are carved out by getting timely hits, earning walks, and selflessly finding ways to make productive outs.

The Red Sox have struggled against quality competition this season. According to the Boston Globe’s Tony Massarotti, they are 24-35 against American League teams who are at or above .500. The Red Sox are rarely able to match-up with the quality teams in their league. That is a fact. But it not just a pitching problem.

To pin the failures of this year’s Sox squad solely on the starting pitching staff is shortsighted, incorrect, and most of all, entirely too easy. It is the lazy fan’s excuse for why their team is perpetually treading water.

If the 2012 Boston Red Sox hope to succeed in the second half, it will be contingent upon their ability to find ways to beat quality teams. Improved starting pitching, combined with a more efficient offense will certainly increase their odds of nabbing a postseason berth.

Ryan Kalish is Needed in Boston

Ryan Kalish should be in the next available Lincoln Town Car that takes him from McCoy Stadium to T.F. Green Airport and on a plane that heads for either South Beach or the North Side.

Either way, he needs to be up with the big boys. Now.

Since being deemed healthy enough to participate in games, Kalish has shined. In a small 13-game sample that spans from High-A ball to Triple-A, the 24-year old outfielder has hit at a .367/.475/.673 clip with an eye-popping OPS of 1.148. He’s launched four home runs, swiped two bags, and drawn nine walks.

This isn’t just some sort of aberration by a minor league standout. Kalish is a guy who has already showcased his talents on the major league level.

In 2010, the left handed hitter was called to Boston during the latter half of the season. The Red Sox were in need. In 53 games, he slugged four home runs, drove in 24 runs, and stole 10 bases. He navigated center field like a veteran (e.g., diving, tumbling catch in Tampa). Kalish looked like a kid that belonged.

Injuries derailed Kalish’s ability to immediately solidify himself as a fixture in the Red Sox outfield. Nevertheless, the Red Sox front office held enough confidence in Kalish to deal Josh Reddick to the Athletics. That’s the same Reddick who has 14 home runs this season in a cavernous home ballpark.

The point is that Kalish possesses both the pedigree and the production that warrants a promotion. More importantly, like in 2010, there is a need.

Offensively, the Red Sox have been potent this season. They’re second in the American League in runs scored and fifth in slugging percentage. Batting average? They’re third.  As of late, however, they have been stagnant to say the least.  In their past five games, the Red Sox have scored 12 runs. That’s an average of 2.4 runs per game. Good luck winning ballgames at that rate.

Over the course of those five games, the Red Sox have faced quality pitching courtesy of both the Nationals and the Marlins. Whether it is Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, or Josh Johnson toeing the rubber, scoring runs is not going to be easy, even if you have a lineup that consists of guys who flat out mash. And the Red Sox lineup certainly does not possess the thump that’s needed to combat quality starting pitching.

Right now, who are you confident in to get a hit, let alone a big hit? David Ortiz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are the only acceptable answers. Adrian Gonzalez is mired in a prolonged slump that forces followers of the team to count the number of walks, rather than home runs. Dustin Pedroia‘s thumb is not right, and, as a result, neither is he. Kevin Youkilis is either too busy grounding out to the left side or yelling at an umpire to actually care that he has been miserable at the dish since returning from the disabled list.

Have there been honorable contributions from Ryan Sweeney, Daniel Nava, and Mike Aviles? Absolutely. And they should be damn proud of themselves. At some point, however, good pitching beats mediocre hitting. And when the hitting isn’t very good to begin with, the good pitching makes said hitting look even worse.

Kalish is a polished, young hitter who can make an immediate impact on a team that is starving for a spark. The Red Sox have been lackluster against right handed pitching. Kalish would help. Their bench lacks any sort of substance. The broad shouldered kid from Jersey would help create roster depth.

If the Red Sox were ten games over .500, it would make sense for Kalish to remain in Triple-A Pawtucket in order to get back into baseball shape. But they’re not. They’re 30-32 and have exactly 100 games left to turn their season season around.

Reinforcements are needed. There is one less than sixty minutes away from Boston. Kalish should be playing with the Red Sox.

Some, if not many, will disagree. And their reasons are valid.

I recently had an exchange with the Providence Journal’s Brian MacPherson–who does an excellent job covering the Red Sox. MacPherson indirectly raised a fair point: Who do the Sox part with in order to make room for Kalish? MacPherson believes it would have to be Scott Podsednik, who has been better than good since getting called up. Here is a portion of our conversation via Twitter:

MacPherson’s point is well-taken. Nevertheless, whether it is a Podsednik decline, a Nava DL stint, or a different roster move all together, Kalish will impact the 2012 Red Sox at some point this season.

Eventually, no matter what, the cream will rise to the top.

Things to Watch For This Weekend

Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals rolled into Fenway Park on Friday night and won the first game of a three game set against the Red Sox. Strasburg was electric, using all of his pitches effectively. The guy looked good. Harper went bridge to most cavernous area of Fenway–the apex of the triangle in center field. He also made an above average catch as he tracked down a hooking liner off Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s bat. He is a concoction of both Five Hour Energy and Red Bull. I was impressed. Let’s examine some other points of interest as the series continues on Saturday.

One of the most frustrating things is baseball is when a pitcher goes out and gives up runs after his offense provides him support. This was on display last night when Felix Doubront surrendered three runs in the top of the third inning after the Red Sox drew first blood in the bottom half of the second. With two outs in the bottom of the second inning, Mike Aviles smacked a clutch two-out double to left center, scoring two runs. Strasburg, at the time, seemed to look human. Doubront promptly went out and let three runs cross the plate the next half inning. So, so frustrating. Baseball is a game of momentum, and a one-two-three inning in the top of the third could have seriously changed the complexion of the game.

Daisuke Matsuzaka is back. Damn it. I’m half kidding. Dice-K will pitch Saturday afternoon for the Red Sox for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery last year. This will undoubtedly be his final year in a Sox uniform, and maybe, just maybe, he can bring something to the table. Hope resides in the idea that Bobby Valentine may have some sort of a positive impact on him due to his ability to speak Matsuzaka’s native language. Time will tell, but if I wouldn’t place any kind of a substantial bet on the Japanese import.

Gio Gonzalez was close to becoming a member of the Red Sox, but the deal fell through. It would have included new fan-favorite Will Middlebrooks along with other prospects like Josh Reddick. The Sox would have likely landed Ryan Sweeney, Gonzalez, and Andrew Bailey. Instead, the Athletics and Nationals brokered a deal that sent the young south paw to the nation’s capital, where he has been excellent. Gonzalez will tote a 2.31 ERA to the mound on Saturday.

Baseball is all about winning two out of three. Middle games in three game sets are vital. Think about it. If your club wins the first game of the series, then, a day later, takes the second game, you’ve already won the series. The final game is gravy. If your team drops the first game but is able to snag a W in the next game, you at least put yourself in a position to win the series with a victory in the final contest. So, if you’re the Red Sox, stack your lineup full of right handed hitters and grab a win Saturday–because then you’re only one win away from having an extremely successful weekend.

It’s easy to get down on Kevin Youkilis. I mean he did go down looking on a fastball in a 3-2 count with the bases loaded against Strasburg on Friday. Youkilis argued, probably to save face, and was ejected. The ballgame was essentially decided then and there. I’m not someone who believes that just because a player helped win a championship or two he must always receive the benefit of the doubt, but Youkilis is still an asset. He’s in a tough spot on a team where there isn’t a ton of flexibility at the corners. I wish there was a way to utilize both Middlebrooks and Youkilis, but it just may not be possible. I’d be surprised if Middlebrooks wasn’t in the lineup Saturday.

As a piece of advice, try not to let your new found affinity for the young, talented Middlebrooks manifest itself into hate or disdain for Youkilis. If you had a team of 25 Youks, you’d win a lot of games.

Oh, Hello Clay

8 innings. 2 earned runs. 2 walks. 7 strike outs.

Chew on that.

Clay Buchholz has been worse than bad in 2012. His ERA, even with last night’s dominating performance, is a robust 6.58. It wouldn’t be a huge deal if Buchholz was still a back-end of the rotation kid, still feeling his way in the big leagues. But he’s not. The Texas native is 27-years old. Heading into the season, many Boston baseball people agreed that it would be the performances of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and especially Buchholz that would ultimately determine whether the Red Sox would sink or swim. Buchholz has been absent, often the first nomination by fans and media members to take a trip to Triple-A Pawtucket. It would be an understatement to say that Buchholz has not pitched well this year. He’s been downright miserable.

But not last night.

—–

It was the first inning, and Buchholz was in yet another tight spot. Kelly Johnson reached base on a catcher’s interference call. The supremely underrated Yunel Escobar hit a chopper to shortstop Mike Aviles in the hole who moved to his right and booted it. It certainly was not a taylor-made double play ball, but Aviles surely would have been able to cut down Johnson at second. Instead of there being one out and a man on first, Buchholz was now forced to deal with two guys on and Jose Bautista coming to the dish. Buchholz opened with three straight pitches out of the strike zone to Bautista. He battled back and ultimately struck out the dangerous righty.

After the game, it was clear that Buchholz understood the importance of that strike out.

“That’s the time when he [Bautista] rises to the occasion, hits a homer, hits a double, and clears the bags. That was a big part of the game for me,” Buchholz said. “That was just a steppingstone to get to the next inning and go out there with a little bit of confidence.’’

Buch was far from out of it as Edwin Encarnacion brought his 17 home runs and 42 RBIs to the plate. The slender righty induced a ground ball to shortstop. Aviles atoned for his mistake earlier in the inning by starting a crisp 6-4-3 double play. Inning over, damage averted.

Buchholz was able to pitch successfully with runners on-base and wiggle out of a tight spot that he did not create. He went on throw seven more strong innings. It was an encouraging sign for a hurler who has struggled mightily thus far.

For Buchholz, it’s about restoring confidence in himself. And last night was a big step in the right direction.

Shopping for a Catcher

The Red Sox do not have a surplus of many of things. Wins are a good example of something they certainly do not have an excess of. Their outfield that once played host to Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury is now home to Daniel Nava and Ryan Sweeney. Alfredo Aceves was once a strong candidate to break camp as a member of the rotation. A freak thumb injury to Andrew Bailey, combined with Red Sox brass’ steadfast belief that Daniel Bard is best served as a starter, thrust Aceves into the role of closer. The minute they thought that had six viable starting pitchers, Aaron Cook’s knee was gashed by a spike, landing him on the disabled list.

The 2012 version of the Boston Red Sox is not exactly dripping with depth.

They do have catching, however. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is posting a so-so  slash line of .250/.281/.512. He has shown a knack for hitting the ball out of the ballpark on the young season. Salty’s gone bridge five times. The 27-year old was once a highly touted prospect and a former first round pick. He has the pedigree and is still developing at an extremely demanding position. Kelly Shoppach mashes lefties and seems to be vaulting into the position of personal catcher for Josh Beckett. It should not be ignored that on Monday night, Shoppach caught Jon Lester‘s complete game against the Mariners. Whether it is factual or not, pitchers seem to be more comfortable working with Shoppach. Finally, Ryan Lavarnway is biding his time at Triple-A Pawtucket. He certainly looks like the catcher of the future or at least a power bat from the right side.

Compared to the catching situations for the Angels and the Nationals, the Red Sox look like they have Ivan Rodriguez, Johnny Bench, and Yogi Berra.

In Washington, the backstops are dropping early and often. Wilson Ramos, a talented young catcher, is likely out for the duration of the season with a right knee injury. On Monday night, Ramos’ replacement, Sandy Leon, a rookie, fell victim to a high right ankle sprain courtesy of the Padres’ Chase Headley during a play at the plate. Out West, the Angels are suffering a similar fate. Chris Iannetta will be out for the best part of two months following wrist surgery. Their top catching prospect, Hank Conger, is currently on the shelf as well.

So this tweet from the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo does not come as much of a suprise:

Conveniently enough, as I mentioned previously, Shoppach caught Lester’s masterful performance last night. He also went very deep to left field, just for good measure. He is a veteran guy, playing under a one-year deal at short money. John Heyman of CBSSports.com sees a tremendous amount of interest brewing around baseball in Shoppach.

This is an interesting situation for GM Ben Cherington and the Red Sox. It’s not like they are openly showcasing their catchers, but other organizations are in need, and, in this situation, the Red Sox have. But what does it all mean?

Ryan Lavarnway is not going anywhere. He hasn’t hit his stride in the International League as of yet, but he is as close to a proven commodity as a prospect can get. Saltalamacchia is not your typical bridge player. The Sox have Mike Aviles keeping Jose Iglesias‘ seat warm, but I do not get the impression that Salty is strictly a placeholder. That is not to say that he is untradeable. If the right deal came along, I believe Cherington would be willing to part with Saltalamacchia. That would be the ultimate vote of confidence for Lavarnway.

Shoppach is the most interesting piece in all of this. At first glance, he is the most tradeable catching commodity the Red Sox have. But is role on this team has expanded. Valentine openly stated that he was not in favor of his pitchers having personal catchers, but it would be moronic to say that Shoppach has not evolved into Beckett’s new version of Jason Varitek. After Lester’s best performance of the year on Monday, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Shoppach behind the dish for the lefty’s next turn.

It will be a curious situation to monitor over the course of the next several days. In all likelihood, the Red Sox will not make a deal. But I would be extremely surprised to hear that they did not listen.

Quick Hits

  • Kevin Youkilis took a Philip Humber offering over the right field wall in the top of the third inning. Three of his teammates happened to be on base at the time. Youkilis’ grand slam was an encouraging sign. He is at his best when he is taking the ball to the opposite field. It was nice to see him drive the pitch the way he did as well.
  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia plated three runs and hit two round trippers last night.  Salty is an easy target when it comes to criticism because Ryan Lavarnway‘s major league ready bat awaits in Pawtucket, but he is a guy who will put up more than acceptable numbers, especially for a catcher. Saltalamacchia’s 2-25 start is a distant memory. As it always it when it comes to baseball, patience is key.
  • Felix Doubront threw 110 pitches over six full innings last night. I like what I see from Doubront. Once he begins hitting the outside corner on a more consistent basis/umpires giving him that call, Doubront’s pitch count with decrease, allowing him to go deeper in games.
  • When the Red Sox were at their lowest points in this early season, we noted that the offense had consistently showed resiliency in the later innings. They had come from behind on several occasions in Detroit and Toronto. The Sox bats are not waiting until the eighth or ninth innings to do their damage any longer.
  •  Mike Aviles may not be as patient as you would like a leadoff hitter, but he has embraced his role. The guy is scorching hot. He is setting the table and driving in runs. It’s nice to see the offense support the pitching staff the way it has.

Patience is Key to Bard’s Success

Daniel Bard is going to give up a lot runs over the course of not-so-many innings in 2012.

Get used to it.

It is not easy to transition from dominant reliever to starter on a team that carries lofty expectations like the Red Sox. Nothing goes under the radar. Everything is magnified. And that undoubtedly makes change of any kind more difficult in a hotbed like Boston.

Media and fans will always be around to question the choices made on and off the diamond by management. That’s part of the fun, after all. In turn, however, management must remain steadfast in the decisions they make. After announcing that Mike Aviles, not Jose Iglesias, will begin the season as the starting shortstop, it would be unfair to both parties for GM Ben Cherington or Bobby Valentine to state that Opening Day is still a week away and a lot of things can happen between now and then. It would represent doubt and a lack of resolve. The decision-makers on Yawkey Way would look rather fickle.

So it is curious that reports out of Fenway South last week indicated that Bard would be heading back to the bullpen when the Red Sox break camp. The news broke the day after the tall right hander threw five innings against the Blue Jays, allowing three runs on three hits. He walked three and fanned two.

Bobby Valentine was not impressed. According to CSNNE’s Sean McAdam, Valentine cited the low number of changeups thrown by Bard, his lack of control, and his poor efficiency with regard to the high pitch count over just five frames.

Valentine is anything but stupid. He knows that the process of a reliever transitioning to starter is not one that is generally smooth. There are roadblocks. Instead of listing Bard’s struggles in his outing a week and a half ago against Toronto as natural obstacles that are bound to occur, he used them in a way that made it seem like he was positioning Bard for a demotion to the bullpen.

And I can’t say I blame him.

Valentine is not making Fenway Park his permanent residence. This is a two-three year lease, max. So if Valentine believes that he can squeeze more productivity out of Bard The Reliever than Bard The Starter in the short term, why wouldn’t he try to make him his closer or stud set-up man?

I would.

Success for Valentine will not be measured in how the 2016 or 2017 Red Sox fare. He needs to start accumulating wins now, not later. Despite that, Valentine will realize, if he hasn’t already, that some decisions even transcend Bobby V.

Bard’s move from reliable reliever to middle of the rotation starter falls into that category. You can make a valid argument that Bard belongs in the bullpen. His repertoire is conducive to late inning, high leverage situations. He was miserable as a starter early in his professional career. I get it. But the Red Sox and Bard made the collaborative decision to give him a chance as a starter.

So what has changed since then?

The answer, in reality, is nothing. Sure, Bard has had an exceptionally mediocre spring, but that certainly should not preclude him from receiving the fair chance he was promised before pitchers and catchers reported. Bard will not be asked to be an All-Star. Instead, he will have the responsibility of being a middle of the road starting pitcher.

Let’s take a look at the projected fourth starters among the expected contenders in the American League:

Blue Jay-Brett Cecil

Indians-Josh Tomlin

Rangers-Yu Darvish

Tigers-Rick Porcello

Yankees-Ivan Nova

Rays-Matt Moore

Angels-Ervin Santana

You would be hard pressed to make a case that Bard does not compare favorably with the majority of these starters. Will he be as productive as Darvish in 2012? Probably not. Can he out perform Porcello? Absolutely. Does Bard have the type of ceiling that Moore possesses? He might.

The Red Sox brass as well as Valentine should treat Bard like Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz. Is there any chance that either of them winds up in the bullpen? No. The same should hold true for Bard.

He is a starter now.

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe summed it up well.

“Everyone knew converting Bard from set-up man to starter was going to require patience. To pull the plug now wouldn’t be fair to Bard”

Monday’s Red Sox Notes

We are just a little over ten days away from Opening Day in Detroit. Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox have a few roster decisions to make over the course of the next several days. I believe that the choices are relatively obvious, but let’s take a closer look.

Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront will be the fourth and fifth starters, respectively, to open the season. I’m only touching on this because it is a hot button issue around the team. In reality, the first 2-3 weeks of the regular season only calls for four starters. The games are spread out enough for a team to use a four-man rotation. Nevertheless, Doubront has pitched well and deserves a shot. I just hope he is able to exhibit good command and keep his walk totals down.

–The “rift” between Valentine and Cherington has been vastly overblown. Front office members and managers should disagree. It’s healthy.

–In order for Jose Iglesias to have won the Opening Day starting shortstop job, he needed to have a good spring, while Mike Aviles had a poor one. Aviles, although not as defensively gifted as Iglesias, has put together a quality spring. He scorched a couple of balls in the afternoon game yesterday against Toronto. Unless there is some sort of injury between now and Opening Day, Aviles will be playing shortstop in Detroit on April 5. If given a dose of truth serum, I’m sure Valentine would choose Iglesias, but Aviles has made it tough for him to make a case to GM Ben Cherington as to why the Cuban phenom should open the season at shortstop.

Alfredo Aceves belongs in the Red Sox bullpen. He would likely be a welcomed starter on many teams, but his value to the Sox is undoubtedly in the bullpen. Ace has shown an ability to pitch in high leverage situations late in games. That is extremely valuable.

Your Fifth Starter Pitches Tonight

As the Red Sox enter the dog days of spring, two questions still remain for the team that totes around quite a bulky payroll: Who will be playing shortstop on Opening Day and who will be the fifth fourth and fifth starters when the season begins? Jose Iglesias would almost certainly be readying himself to begin the year in Triple-A Pawtucket if such a large personality was not the at the helm of the club, but with Bobby Valentine as the skipper, anything is possible–even if it is not what GM Ben Cherington would prefer.

The latter question does not possess a firm answer. Throughout the course of a 162-game season, injuries occur, rotations become jumbled, and teams rarely use the same five starters. Who begins the season at the tail end of a rotation is often not nearly as important as the individuals who finish the season in those slots.

The 2012 Boston Red Sox may begin the season with Felix Doubront and Alfredo Aceves (or Daniel Bard) as the fourth and fifth starters, but neither of the pitchers will likely finish there. Instead, it certainly sounds like  Daisuke Matsuzaka will be ready sooner rather than later as he is being tabbed for a June return time. Say what you want about the buzzkill from the Eas, butthat’s good news. Two words: Contract year. The second piece to the second half of the rotation puzzle will be taking the mound this evening at Jet Blue Park as the Red Sox take on the Yankees.

Aaron Cook will certainly not be ready to suit up on April 5, but he has the opportunity to be a serious, summer-long contributor to a staff that is thirsty for someone to step up and provide valuable innings from the back end of the rotation.

If he is healthy and receives an opportunity, Cook is a guy that fans, teammates, and coaches will really enjoy.

According to Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe, in his two starts this spring “he has thrown 5 ⅓ innings without giving up a run.” Even better, the 16 outs that Cook has recorded, “eight have come on ground balls.”

Giddy up.

The downside to Cook is two-fold. First, he is not on the same pace that the other candidates for the rotation are on. Early reservations about the strength of Cook’s shoulder prevented him from getting on the mound in a timely fashion. Second, the righty inked a minor league deal with the Sox which allows him to opt out of his contract on May 1. The guy is a veteran who does not want to toil in Pawtucket for the majority of the season, waiting for a spot to open via injury. If he feels as though he can contribute on the major league level and the Red Sox are not giving him a shot, he should have the opportunity to explore greener pastures. However, as long as he continues to progress, the Red Sox will likely give Cook a chance to start.

For the Red Sox sake, I hope the 33 year old stays healthy and builds up his endurance. That would at least put him in position to be given an opportunity. He is a sinkerball pitcher who would slot nicely into the back end of a rotation that, for all of the criticism it has taken this winter, is actually quite good.

And Cook would be a welcomed commodity.

“I’m pitching to contact. I’m trying to get guys out of the box as quickly as possible and get our offense back on the field.”

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