For starters, a strong sign
Wakefield return a lift for rotation
BALTIMORE - Tim Wakefield will start Monday against the Royals, barring a poor performance in a strength test today, which will allow the Red Sox to rest Josh Beckett an extra day as the season steams toward the finish.
Wakefield threw 40 pitches in a side session yesterday and, “everything went fine,’’ he said. While still hobbled by a nerve issue in his back and left calf, Wakefield believes Monday’s start is definite. “In my mind,’’ he said, “yes.’’
The Sox will put Wakefield through physical tests today, which they anticipate will be mostly a formality. Manager Terry Francona said the Sox have a backup plan - Michael Bowden is one possibility - but Wakefield’s start is a virtual certainty.
“I think he actually felt some improvement over the other day,’’ Francona said. “We feel like Wake is going to be OK, or we really wouldn’t have done this. But I think we feel an obligation to check.’’
The Sox are in the middle of a season-ending stretch of 20 games in 20 days, which places a premium on lessening the workload of their most-used pitchers. Wakefield will help alleviate the issue for one start.
Wakefield will not be able to pitch every five days, likely requiring about 10 days of rest after his Monday outing. But his return will allow the Sox to give Beckett, who is approaching his career high for innings pitched, an extra day of rest.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations with especially he and [Jon ] Lester,’’ Francona said. “They’ve carried a big load. When we all feel like it’s in their best interest, I think we try to do it. We just think it’s a really good time to give him another day.’’
The rest may be particularly beneficial for Beckett. On four days’ rest this season, Beckett has been average: 6-5 with a 4.73 ERA and a .257 batting average against. On five days’ rest, has been outstanding: 8-0 with a 2.23 ERA and a .204 batting average.
Beckett’s career high for innings, set in 2006, is 204 2/3. He has thrown 201 1/3 innings this season. Lester has thrown 188 2/3 innings, close to his career-high of 210 1/3, set last year.
Paul Byrd, who pitched Wednesday night, will start Tuesday. The rotation for the next six days, starting tonight, is scheduled to be Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Wakefield, Byrd, Beckett, and Clay Buchholz.
Wakefield, an All-Star who is 11-4 with a 4.22 in 19 starts, last pitched Sept. 5 in Chicago. He has made only two starts since the All-Star break.
“I’m pretty sure I’ll play [today],’’ Ellsbury said. “But it’s one of those things. You don’t know. But I’m pretty confident I’ll be in there tomorrow.’’
“If he wakes up [today] and he’s a little bit stiff, yeah, we won’t play him,’’ Francona said. “We’ll see how he does. I think he’s going to be OK.’’
As the Sox took the field one inning, Francona meant to check with Ellsbury about his groin, but missed him on his way out of the dugout. Francona instead walked to center field with trainer Paul Lessard.
“I just thought it would be bad if I didn’t check with him,’’ said Francona. “He said he was fine.’’
During at-bats after an 0-and-2 count, Ellsbury is batting .327, an astonishing figure, even to him. The league average is .178. Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners is second at .316.
“So maybe I should get into 0-2 counts,’’ Ellsbury said, laughing while he mimed his stance and looked at pretend pitches. “Just stand there. Strike. Strike.’’
Youkilis said he felt no lasting effect from the spasms and he expected they would not be a problem again this season. Youkilis went 0 for 4, but he made a key play, charging a weak ground ball and getting the out to help stifle an Oriole rally in the fourth inning. He made a running, twisting throw, the kind of play he could not have made had his spasms been firing.
“I felt good out there,’’ Youkilis said. “It’s actually good to be playing. You get the blood flowing, the sweat flowing, that helps. When you’re not doing anything, that’s how you lock up.’’
Material from the Associated Press was used; Adam Kilgore can be reached at email@example.com.