The Red Sox have not officially named a starter for Sunday's game against the Baltimore Orioles, and with Alfredo Aceves, the expected starter for that tilt, coming in to last night's game to pitch two innings of relief -- albeit on 15 pitches -- things got a bit more curiouser and curioser in that regard.
Aceves could still start, of course. With so few pitches, it wasn't a particularly strenuous appearance, and with the All-Star break coming up, it doesn't matter much if he can only toss 3-4 innings anyway. The bullpen could be completely emptied out on Sunday with no worries about saving them for Monday. While that is a likely outcome, there wouldn't be much point to this article if I didn't keep on speculating, now would there?
Kevin Millwood is the veteran stuffed inside the "Break Glass In Case Of Emergency" container down in Triple-A Pawtucket. He didn't utilize his opt-out, either because he thinks there is a chance he will end up in Boston, or because he enjoys pitching in Pawtucket more than searching for a new job in someone else's minor league system. He has been about what you would expect from a 36-year-old with over a decade of experience as a starting pitcher in the big leagues. You can't take his stats seriously because of that -- Triple-A is that odd playground where being too old and experienced for a level can result in some seriously wonky stats that would never translate to the majors. Look no further than his 2010 season with the Orioles for proof of what you could expect from Millwood: he posted a Run Average of 5.47 and a 4.86 FIP with the team, thanks to a flyball-heavy approach that made his now mediocre stuff a potential home run very often.
He isn't the worst thing you could throw out there for one start, but the Red Sox know what they have in Millwood. He is a Last Resort, the guy you go to when everything has already been so screwed up that it almost doesn't matter anymore. He has had a solid and lengthy career, but his days as a starting pitcher of any kind of significance are likely over.
That leaves Kyle Weiland, who is 12 years Millwood's junior and yet to make his major league debut. Weiland was something of a fringe starter/future reliever heading into the year, considered the #20 prospect in the Red Sox system by Baseball America, and left off the top 20 entirely by Baseball Prospectus's Kevin Goldstein. The addition of a cutter to his repertoire has changed the game for him, though, and he has thoroughly dominated Triple-A hitters in his first stint at the level.
Weiland has 9.6 strikeouts per nine in 93 innings and a 2.7 K/BB. Pawtucket leans in favor of hitters, but that hasn't hurt the righty, as he has given up 0.6 homers per nine. His 1.4 ground-to-air ratio in Pawtucket has also helped in that regard.
Weiland still may not make it as a starter in the majors, but his chances today are better than they were in February. It's possible, given the weak opponent and a bullpen capable of saving him should he falter given the All-Star break, that Boston could send Scott Atchison back to the minors (he came up when Jon Lester went on the disabled list) and bring up Weiland for a start.
The one issue is that Weiland is not on the 40-man roster, but thanks to the injuries to Rich Hill and Daisuke Matsuzaka, both of which required 60-day DL stints, there is one open spot on the 40-man were they in need of it.
We'll keep an eye out for the announcement of who Sunday's starter is, but these seem the most likely candidates. As for my preference? I'm still hoping Pedro Martinez gets the same stem cell surgery Bartolo Colon had and then signs in Boston feeling 10 years younger.