|Josh Beckett will start two of the Red Sox’ opening five games. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)|
Red Sox set, for starters
Wakefield, Buchholz in five-deep rotation
FORT MYERS, Fla. — The top of the Red Sox rotation looks as most expected: Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey.
Based on experience and leadership and tenure, they have known their slots for a while. It’s the back of the rotation that’s a bit more confusing.
After delaying the announcement, citing the difficulties of scheduling around three early days off and the potential for bad weather, manager Terry Francona disclosed yesterday the Sox will use five starters: Beckett, Lester, Lackey, Tim Wakefield, and Clay Buchholz, but not in that order.
After Beckett, Lester, and Lackey pitch the opening series against the Yankees, Wakefield will start in Kansas City. Beckett will pitch the next game, followed by Buchholz. From there, the rotation will be Lester, Lackey, Wakefield, Beckett, and Buchholz.
“We feel like we’ve got five very good starters,’’ pitching coach John Farrell said. “We’ve always taken the approach to build for the long haul, and this gives due respect to all those who have earned a spot in this rotation.’’
That includes Wakefield, who has pitched well this spring, and Buchholz, who has not. Wakefield has a 3.66 ERA in his return from offseason back surgery. Buchholz has a 10.80 ERA, though he was stellar down the stretch last season and in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.
“The one thing we certainly balance is spring training evaluation compared with the 10, 11 starts [Buchholz] had for us last year, including the postseason,’’ Farrell said. “We’re not blind to what takes place here in spring training, but we want to temper that with the history that he proved to us last year.’’
The Sox could have chosen to use four starters. Because they have three days off in the first 10 days of the season, they could have gone without a fifth starter until April 18. Instead, they went with Wakefield and Buchholz in the rotation, with Daisuke Matsuzaka beginning the season on the disabled list.
“We thought about a lot of things,’’ Francona said. “We’re trying to balance present, future, performance, winning, and I think we’re all comfortable with where we got to. There are some things that could change, with weather and things like that. How must rest is too much? How much is not enough? I think we’re pretty comfortable with where we ended up.’’
The decision to structure their rotation this way had other factors, as well. Beckett will start twice before Buchholz starts once because the Sox do not want Beckett to have more than six days’ rest between starts.
“We didn’t want Josh to go on seven days,’’ Farrell said. “What we’ve learned over time is he’s still very effective and sharp on six days. When we get into the seventh day, that begins to get into an area where it starts to work adversely with him.’’
Wakefield and Buchholz had to be slotted around Beckett. Rather than put Buchholz between Lackey and Beckett, the Sox put Wakefield there “to break up two power righthanders with that contrast in style,’’ Farrell said.
“[Wakefield] has done everything we could have asked in spring training,’’ he continued. “He’s come in, he’s proven he’s healthy, he’s thrown the ball very well, and it gives us a confident feeling that we’re fairly deep 1 through 5 in this rotation.’’
But what about No. 6?
Matsuzaka, who has back and neck soreness, won’t start until he is up around six innings and 90 pitches. He is scheduled to pitch behind Wakefield in an exhibition game against the Nationals in Washington, D.C., next Saturday, then is ticketed for the disabled list. When he proves he’s ready to start the season, the Sox will have to sort through six starters.
For now, they’re not concerned.
“I think it’s a lot of relief for the five guys in the rotation to have a clear picture of, once the season begins, where they are going to be starting and who they are going to be going against,’’ Farrell said. “We still have a lot of work left in spring training, but there is always that thought in the back of every starter’s mind of ‘Where do I line up?’ We feel good about the five guys we’ll begin the season with.’’
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.