Red Sox notebook

For starters, six-man rotation is unlikely

Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell protests after being called out by first base umpire Tim McClelland in the fourth inning. Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell protests after being called out by first base umpire Tim McClelland in the fourth inning. (Mike Cassese/Reuters)
By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / May 30, 2009
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TORONTO - With five healthy starters in the rotation, and two more seemingly on the way, a question has been how the Red Sox intend to fit everyone in.

Trades are a possibility, and injuries usually crop up. But the Sox could also take a nontraditional approach and add another pitcher to the rotation.

However, pitching coach John Farrell said yesterday, "There haven't been any distinct conversations on that specific approach or the use of the sixth starter."

While the team's stance is that these things work themselves out, the time for a decision is rapidly approaching. John Smoltz's rehab period ends June 19, and Clay Buchholz is pitching as if he has nothing left to prove in Triple A. Buchholz came within three outs of a perfect game Monday against Louisville, and has a 1.30 ERA this season.

"The one thing about baseball is that three weeks can be an extremely long time," Farrell said. "A lot of things can happen between the dates and what you're having to deal with. Even at this point we have target dates, but anything else other than that is speculative at this point."

There are reasons why teams go with five-man rotations and not six.

"The limitations are taking productive starters and taking them out of a normal routine," Farrell said. "The other potential taxing issue could be on the bullpen. You're taking one more reliever out of the pen, putting them in the rotation. Now if we know for a fact every night we're going to get six-plus innings out of a starter, well sure, that makes all the sense in the world."

The Sox know they can't count on that many innings out of their starters each night. Boston starters are averaging a little more than 5 2/3 innings.

"It's a very good debate," Farrell said. "Hopefully, we remain healthy and no one's pressed into duty otherwise and decisions like that are very difficult to make, particularly when you've got a guy who is probably pitching well enough to be pitching in the major leagues [in Buchholz]. But at the same time we've got guys up here that are being committed to, and for very good reasons."

Getting a grip
Daniel Bard cited a new grip on his breaking ball as the reason he allowed no hits over 2 1/3 innings, striking out the last five Blue Jays he faced.

"That's what I expect of myself," he said. "Not necessarily the strikeouts, but getting outs. Executing pitches I think should get hitters out at any level. I think there's an adjustment period when you're moving up at any time . . . You kind of get that feeling like, all right, I belong here. Then you go out and start pitching with a little more confidence. You stop worrying about what people are thinking of you. It's more focus on getting outs and winning ballgames."

Bard said the change in grip created a later, downward break.

It likely helped, too, to follow Tim Wakefield to the mound. The Sox have often brought in Manny Delcarmen to relieve the knuckleballer, because of the stark difference in velocity. Prior to last night, Bard had just two strikeouts in six innings with a 1.50 ERA. He now has seven strikeouts in 8 1/3 innings with an ERA of 1.08.

"I think it was really good for him, just being able to stay out there and use all his pitches, not have to pitch like a situational game," said manager Terry Francona. "Nobody's warming up behind him. Go out and get some outs. I thought he threw the ball down, and that's what they've been working on so much, that life through the zone down. I thought he really did a good job, then mixed in a good breaking ball."

Francona improved
Francona's heart was racing, and it wasn't just from the aggravation he felt when Jason Varitek was ejected from Thursday's game. The Sox manager was attended to by medical personnel after the series finale in Minneapolis, and wasn't allowed on the team charter until his heart rate slowed.

"When I was on the field, I felt like I was going down," said Francona. "I had to stop for a second. I thought I was going to pass out. I got into the clubhouse, and my heart, it just was going fast. I got settled down. I feel fine today."

Francona said he wasn't given medication, but was told to relax. His response? "Are you kidding me? Are you watching this game?"

Francona got in the face of home plate umpire Todd Tichenor after Varitek's ejection, and soon was ejected himself.

"I was upstairs with him after," said Varitek. "He just didn't look right. He looks a lot better today."

Man of few words
Varitek didn't speak after Thursday's game, in which he also hit a pair of home runs, and wouldn't elaborate much yesterday. He did say it would be interesting to see the report on his ejection, and if there is a fine. "He actually at times was pretty knowledgeable," Varitek said of Tichenor. "Talked about the drag bunt one time. He was knowledgeable about baseball." . . . Francona reported that reliever Takashi Saito was fine despite being hit on the foot by a Marco Scutaro liner in the eighth. The ball caromed to third baseman Mike Lowell, who threw to first for the first out of the inning. "I think it hit him hard," Francona said. "Said it was no problem, it hit him in the heel. Something ricochets that hard, we want to check." . . . The Sox have been outscored, 51-30, in the fifth inning . . . George Kottaras, who was born in Scarborough, Ontario, and resides in Markham, Ontario, in the offseason, played his first game in Toronto. "I had a lot [of family and friends in attendance]," Kottaras said. "I didn't have much time to spend with them because I knew I was playing today. I'm definitely going to see them tomorrow after the game." . . . Francona said it's possible that Mark Kotsay could be activated for the series in Detroit next week. The outfielder-first baseman is 6 for 21 in his last six rehab games with Triple A Pawtucket. He will play today and tomorrow for the PawSox, and be reevaluated Monday. "It's starting to sound like he's getting a little antsy, which is good," Francona said. "Kotsay has had no setbacks and is showing good bat speed." Jeff Bailey likely will be shipped out when Kotsay returns . . . Francona said he planned to check in with Rocco Baldelli after last night's game to determine how his hamstring is feeling. The Sox are facing lefthanders Brian Tallet today and Ricky Romero tomorrow, and it would be a plus to have Baldelli available . . . The Sox' top pick in the 2008 draft, pitcher/shortstop Casey Kelly, was promoted to high Single A Salem from low Single A Greenville. Kelly went 6-1 with a 1.12 ERA for the Drive. Once he hits approximately 95 innings, including his 20 from spring training, he'll switch to shortstop.

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