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Armed and ready

A spring evaluation of the Red Sox pitching staff

FT. MYERS, Fla. -- Last night at Stevie Tomato’s Sports Page, a popular sports bar in Ft. Myers, a longtime regular and Yankee fan was raving about the big names in the Yankees starting rotation and deep bullpen. You know who they are.

He asked the Red Sox fan he was chatting with, “Who’s the Red Sox ace? [Curt] Schilling is hurt. Pedro [Martinez] and [Derek] Lowe are gone. Matt Clement? [Tim] Wakefield? He’s a knuckleballer, when you hit that thing it goes. [Bronson] Arroyo the kid?”

With nine games to go until Boston’s Opening Night showdown against the Yankees, here’s a quick review of the Sox pitching staff’s performance so far this spring, understanding that just stretching out on the mound is sometimes more important than statistics (all numbers through Thursday’s action, except Curt Schilling’s).

Curt Schilling: His original projection of being a month behind seems to have been accurate. All the talk of his rushing back for the opener sent the Nation into an ill-advised frenzy. Schilling gets a mulligan no matter what happens this season as he led the Sox to the promised land last year, risking his own health in the process. He says the ankle is not bothering him, which is the best news possible. And while he said he felt good after his brief minor league stint on Monday, the real test came today against the Twins: He surrendered three runs in 3 2/3 innings in his first official work or the spring. It was his first and likely last start of the spring, though he may throw against minor leaguers next Wednesday.

Spring grade: Incomplete

David Wells: He made a late spring debut on March 12 against the Devil Rays, taking the mound while battling the flu. The big man worked two innings, giving up an earned run on four hits. Wells didn’t fare too well in his next start against a split-squad Marlins team in the St. Patty’s Day make-up, surrendering six hits and three earned runs in four innings of work. But his control was tight and he only walked one. The Opening Night starter did not fare as well against the Orioles in a rain-shorted game on Wednesday as he was pounded for 11 hits and six earned runs in six innings. But as usual, he pointed to his 18 years in the big leagues and was just happy to get his pitch count up again. However, the fans in the stands were more concerned about his ball being up in the strike zone early and often that day. Wells enters the last week of spring with a 7.50 ERA and has given up a team-high 21 hits (only two walks) and 10 earned runs in 12 innings of work. A Nation has its fingers crossed that this signing will work out in the long run.

Spring grade: C-

Matt Clement: Matt’s welcome was not so great. After a long first inning against the Twins in the spring opener, the World Series champs heard their first boo-birds of the new season exactly five minutes into their title defense. Gotta love Sox fans. The theme for Clement this spring has been stretches of futility, though he’s also shows the ability to rebound. In four starts, Clement has a 5.54 ERA, having given up 17 hits in 13 innings. The good news is that he has 12 strikeouts and only two walks. He’ll take Schilling’s spot in the minor league game today.

Spring grade: B-

Bronson Arroyo: He had a tough start to the spring campaign, but has improved with every outing since. In his last start, against the Dodgers, Arroyo not only gave up just one run in six innings, he also picked up a base hit off former Sox starter Derek Lowe. Arroyo this spring has compiled a 2.87 ERA with just one walk to go with 12 strikeouts, making his case to stay in the starting rotation for the long haul. If the Nation were managing, Bronson would be your Opening Day starter. I’ll bring the sign to the Stadium that reads “Forget Johnson, We’ve Got Bronson.”

Spring grade: A-

Tim Wakefield: It’s not how you start in spring, it’s how you finish. Wake certainly started out strong, if you want to count his inclusion as one of the fab five who combined to no-hit Northeastern. Wake followed up the old college try against the Dodgers with three scoreless (and hitless) innings, despite giving up three walks in three innings. Suddenly the Nation felt better about the woes of its starting rotation. Against St. Louis, Wakefield went four innings on a windy day, giving up a run to the National League champs on four hits with a couple of walks and strikeouts. But he struggled badly in his last start against the Reds on Tuesday night, getting hit hard in 2 2/3 innings. The bottom line was six earned runs on eight hits, with three walks in his ugliest outing of the spring. Yuck. A 5.91 ERA in 10 2/3 innings of work is Wake’s tally to date with a team-high eight walks to go with seven strikeouts. I’d take Arroyo to start and put Wake in the pen when Schilling comes back, but I’m not the manager.

Spring grade: B-

Mike Timlin: The bullpen’s elder statesman has had himself a nice spring training so far in five outings. He has a 1.50 ERA in six innings of work, and more importantly, he hasn’t given up a home run.

Spring grade: B

Matt Mantei: The newcomer made his debut for the Red Sox by allowing a base hit to Boston College first baseman David Preziosi, which broke up the Sox’ chances at a double no-hitter against the big men on campus. But he’s been lights out ever since. Against the big boys, Mantei gave up a couple of hits against the Twins in one inning of work, but was throwing 95 mph gas in getting a strike out. He followed up a few days later in an early-inning relief situation, stopping the bleeding and shutting down the Blue Jays in recording two outs. Mantei had another scoreless inning against the Twins on March 13, but his velocity dipped a bit. He came back against St. Louis and had a busy inning, giving up two hits and a walk resulting in a run. In total, Mantei, who underwent shoulder surgery last June, has a 1.69 ERA in just 5 1/3 innings of work.

Spring grade: A

Alan Embree: The lefty opened the spring campaign throwing hard, like the original Alan Embree the Sox acquired in the summer of 2002. Unfortunately, he was also hit hard in his spring debut, giving up three runs on three hits against Minnesota. Embree also got knocked around by the Cardinals, giving up four hits in one inning but escaping with just one run against him. Embree worked his way back to form on Thursday with a perfect inning against the Orioles, but is admittedly behind the rest of the relievers this spring. Five earned runs for Embree in his five innings of work to date.

Spring grade: B-

Keith Foulke: The postseason star jumped into the fray on March 12 against the Rays at City of Palms, working a perfect inning while recording a strikeout. He’s been perfect ever since as well, surrendering just one hit and no runs in three more outings (.063 batting average against). That’s a far cry from his spring woes from last year.

Spring grade: A+

Byung Hyun Kim: Some fans can’t forget the finger. Others hate him for his perceived selfish attitude. And more resent his regression as a pitcher over the last two years. Either way, B.H. Kim is in most everyone’s dog house. I’m still rooting for B.K. to turn this thing around and get back to being the pitcher he was when the Sox acquired him. It’s not my money, but cutting Kim now and eating the $6 million would be a mistake. There are too many question marks on this staff; why not let B.K. work his way back in Pawtucket until it’s finally determined if he can help? In the spring opener, he came in and worked a perfect inning and we all thought he was back. Not so fast. In his next game against the Phillies, he came undone quickly, walking three and giving up two runs in 1 2/3 innings before being lifted to a round of boos at City of Palms. Kim battled the flu after that outing and finally reappeared against the Pirates on March 20, when he pitched a scoreless inning but did not top 85 on the radar gun. Kim worked an uneventful two innings against the Orioles. A 4.76 ERA and .176 batting average against in 5 2/3 innings mean BK won’t start the season with the big club. His lack of velocity and disposition on the mound are what seem to be holding him back yet again.

Spring grade: C-

John Halama: The newcomer saw his first action in a Red Sox uniform against the New York Yankees, giving up a run on two hits in an inning of work. He started his first game against the Orioles on March 14, going two innings and giving up four hits in a 5-3 loss to the new Sox nemesis. And in his next start, he was hammered by the Pirates to the tune of five runs and seven hits in three innings. Halama has given up 13 hits in nine innings to go along with his ERA of 9.00.

Spring grade: C-

Other staff notables

Anastacio Martinez: Given every chance to make the team, A-Mart has had a spotty spring at best. Most notably, he was crushed for five hits and three earned runs in 2 1/3 innings in a start against the Blue Jays in Dunedin. A 5.23 ERA in 10 1/3 innings probably won’t get it done for Martinez, who is out of minor league options.

Spring grade: C

Wade Miller: While it was encouraging that Miller was in Ft. Myers and throwing early in February, reality has set in and the price was right for a reason. He most likely won’t be ready until June, but he’s still optimistic about returning in May as he continues to take small steps while he rehabilitates from rotator cuff surgery. Miller threw 25 warmup pitches in the pen before throwing 27 to batters on Wednesday.

Spring grade: Incomplete

Jack Cressend: Originally signed by Boston as an amateur free agent in 1996 and one of the original Lowell Spinners, Cressend was inked to a minor-league contract Jan. 5 and invited to camp as a non-roster pitcher. He remains in a battle for the 11th spot in the bullpen, having put together a nice spring: a 1.23 ERA in 7.1 innings. Still, he’s a long shot to make the team.

Spring grade: B+

Jeremi Gonzalez: The former Tampa Bay Devil Ray has been hit hard this spring, giving up a team high three home runs in 9 1/3 innings and has a 4.82 ERA. He was nearly booed off the field by Sox fans in Dunedin, where he gave up back-to-back homers and nearly a third that went foul as he turned a close game against Toronto into a blowout.

Spring grade: C-

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