With the season resuming tonight in Anaheim, Calif., Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell, Boston's Mr. Fix-It, has fewer repair problems than most around the American League. But especially coming off a World Series title, Farrell needs his pitching staff to become championship-caliber before October.
The Sox rank seventh in team ERA (3.80) in baseball, but one alarming area has been their 363 walks allowed, also seventh in the majors.
"It's been a constant concern," said Farrell. "It's been a constant emphasis, and I think except for the last 7-10 days before the break, we had really improved greatly in that area. But we need to be better and we're working on that constantly."
Part of the upswing in walks is because strike machine Curt Schilling is no longer in the rotation. Meanwhile, Daisuke Matsuzaka is 10-1 with a 2.65 ERA, but he's walked 57 batters in 88 1/3 innings, after allowing 80 walks in 204 2/3 innings last season.
"We've got to get him one inning beyond with the same number of pitches he's throwing," Farrell said of Matsuzaka. "That's what we're hoping to see here over the next few starts."
Farrell said he loves Matsuzaka's competitiveness and the fact he never gives in. He also loves that opponents are 0 for 11 against Matsuzaka with the bases loaded. But he could do without those situations.
"I think it's just a matter of him continuing to repeat his delivery consistently," Farrell said. "There are some areas he needs to get better with, but you can't deny the overall results."
Farrell's other views on the staff:
Josh Beckett - "He's been on the right track for quite a while. He had a stretch of four or five starts coming out of spring training where he was in a little bit of catch-up mode because of the in juries, but he's been very, very good since. He's a tremendous competitor, and we've seen what Josh can do in the biggest games." In other words, no worries.
Jon Lester - "He's been very consistent, especially after the first three starts, and he's met his expectations for getting deep in games, as we saw in his last start [7 1/3 innings against the Twins July 8] before the break. We always have a projected target threshold for every guy. We're thinking he can go 190-200 innings at this pace. He's gone from being very deliberate - and I'm not saying he was unsure of himself - to one who attacks hitters, and his pace of game is at a much brisker pace now."
Tim Wakefield - "Over the last two months, he's really been our most consistent starter. Last year you could see some starts where around the six or seventh inning, things would begin to unravel a little bit, but this year that has not been the case at all. He's done a tremendous job on his slide step and holding runners on. He's considerably faster to the plate than a year ago, which allows us to throw out some runners. He still maintains his arm slot. He's still able to execute the knuckleball with his delivery. I think he really benefits by the large contrast between Josh. And I think Tim helps Daisuke. He's 42, yet he continues to evolve and improve."
Clay Buchholz - "Needs consistency with the fastball. The rest of his stuff is lights out. If he trusts his stuff and doesn't feel that he has to overthrow to generate extra velocity, he'll be successful. The first inning is the key for him. If he gets by the first inning and finds his feet on the ground a little more, then he's able to use his fastball more as the game goes on. He has so many weapons to use, but the main thing is still going to be command of his fastball."
Hideki Okajima - "[His splitter has] shown improvement over the last four or five outings, but more than anything, the improvement stems from the aggressiveness which he's pitched with. On his part, there was a spell where he was learning from last year, the stress of his first experience in major league baseball, and consequently, the demands he put on his body physically. I think as he came into this season, there was a tendency to pace himself a little bit to get through the full year, but while that was happening, the sharpness to his stuff wasn't quite what it was a year ago. He's got to go out and pitch as if this is his last inning. Not leave anything in the tank, so to speak. Like every pitcher, word gets around the league to look for certain pitches, and he has to adjust and make counteradjustments as to how he attacks hitters. One thing he can do is come in and keep a game in check."
Jonathan Papelbon - "When we were on our road trip through Houston and Tampa Bay, we did take a close look at appearances and he was at a pace where he was ahead of a year ago or two years ago. As it worked out because of opportunities, the usage came back to a more normal pace, and because of that, his overall appearances going forward, they will be line with the last couple of years. We don't have any parameters for the number of appearances he should have three weeks out of the break, for instance, but we feel he'll be OK."
Manny Delcarmen - "He went through a prolonged stretch where he was dominant and then he had a couple of outings where things didn't work out quite as well. He dominates when he throws his fastball down and away to righthanded batters. His curve has become more of a throwaway-type pitch, where last year it was more of a pitch to get him back into the count, so he's a guy that we will lean on heavily because he and [David] Aardsma have had phenomenal first-batter success rates. But Manny is still the guy we feel we go to when we need a strikeout to get out of a jam."
Justin Masterson (now at Triple A Pawtucket) - "When you look at his time up here, he had dominance against quality righthanded hitters. And that's not to say he would be looked upon strictly as a situational righthanded reliever, but because he's been so dominant, if you hit a stretch in the mid-to-late portion of the game where you have righthanded hitters coming up, you'd have no hesitation to go to him. But he can also be that guy in the bullpen - when he does return - that if the starter goes five or six innings, he can pitch two-plus innings and give us a chance to bridge that gap right to Papelbon in that case. I think it'll be interesting to see what kind of stuff he brings back. I would anticipate his velocity would pick up a little bit. That three-quarters sidearm slot with mid-to-low-90s sinking action is not commonly seen with any team in the American League."
Craig Hansen - "He has been [inconsistent], but he's shown signs of dominance at times. He and Buchholz are in similar situations in that they're young thoroughbreds that you're looking to tame and harness. With a mid-90s fastball and a great slider, he can dominate both lefties and righties."
Javier Lopez - "He's done a great job against lefthanded batters [who are hitting .224 against him] and righthanded batters [.294]. He can be a very effective situational lefty, and there are situations where he can give you some innings as well."
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.