Kyle Weiland of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. Weiland will face off against Jeremy Hellickson tonight at Fenway Park. (Photo by Steven Kovich/Getty Images)
September call-ups do not often get much playing time on good teams. They are there to expand the roster, and give the manager some more depth and additional options for pinch runners or defensive replacements late in games, but not to necessarily take on a significant role. There are exceptions, of course: the Rays used top pitching prospect David Price back in 2008 in to help anchor their bullpen, and he also provided important innings in the playoffs. Generally speaking, though, it's the poorer teams that are giving their younger players a chance in September, and the good teams just keep on doing what got them to this point with their standard lineup.
Boston, who currently leads the AL Wild Card by four games, is in a different position due to injuries. David Ortiz has missed two straight games with back spasms, and now Adrian Gonzalez was pulled from Wednesday afternoon's contest. Erik Bedard has not been available to start due to a combination knee and lat injury -- neither of which are considered serious, but both of which could become worse and keep Bedard from the innings that truly matter next month were the Sox to rush things. Josh Beckett missed a start due to a sprained ankle, but at least in his case he is slated to start tomorrow night against the Rays. Kevin Youkilis is playing through a sports hernia and bursitis, things he will have taken care of in the off-season, but for now, and especially with Ortiz and Gonzalez out, he'll be playing on one leg.
These events have made it so that a few of those September call-ups are going to have a chance to factor into the playoff race. Ryan Lavarnway got the start at DH in place of Ortiz yesterday, and though the lack of plate appearances means his line jumps all over the place from game to game at this stage, we are talking about a guy who hit .290/.376/.563 and leads the Red Sox organization in homers this year -- there are worse replacements for a handful of games for Ortiz, for sure. Kyle Weiland is no Bedard, and while his 16 innings in the majors haven't left much of an impression, he also performed very well in the minors this year -- considering you're nearing double-digits when you get to Weiland's spot on the rotation depth chart, things could be a lot worse here, too. One good start may be all they need out of him for the rest of the season, and his credentials say he's at least capable of delivering that.
This isn't t the same as saying everything is okay, Lavarnway and Weiland are here to save the day! It's more a reminder that Boston at least has some reserves on hand that aren't just the likes of say, Joey Gathright, who was signed specifically to be a pinch-runner and occasional defensive replacement, but is never meant to touch a bat, and aren't being forced to do something like allow Scott Atchison to start a game because there are literally no other options available. Boston's chances are better with players like Lavarnway and Weiland than they are with your typical back-end 40-man roster pieces -- your Gathrights of the world -- and their presence may just help the Red Sox get through this rough patch of injuries as the end of the season draws near.