Progress Report: The Back of the Rotation

Tampa, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Felix Doubront (61) throws a pitch against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

We know the top three in the Boston Red Sox starting rotation will be Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz in some order. As long as those guys are healthy, they're the backbone of the starting staff. But unlike previous seasons, the Sox haven't come into spring training with the back of the rotation set. Injuries to Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey have opened up two spots that a year ago nobody anticipated would be available.

Rather than sign a big free agent to fill one or both of the holes, new GM Ben Cherington opted to bring in as many guys for the two spots as possible in the hopes that something would stick. The easy reference to make here is to the 2011 New York Yankees who got 310 innings of ~3.80 ERA ball from both the re-animated corpse of Freddy Garcia and Zombie Bartolo Colon, two guys nobody wanted a year ago at this time. If the Red Sox can get anything close to that from any two of their rotation candidates they'll be ecstatic.

As to the specific characters who might inhabit those spots, well, there are a ton of 'em. So many that it might be hard to keep up with all of them. In that vein, OTM presents a handy dandy Progress Report on the all of the prospective members of the back end of the Red Sox rotation.

Who is doing well and who isn't? Who's likely sticking and who's headed out the door? Find out after the jumpy-jumpy!

By my count, the Sox started the spring with nine possibilities for two rotation spots.

Carlos Silva (non roster invite)
Silva never made it onto the field. His shoulder acted up preventing him from really doing much other than stand around and look just like Carlos Silva. The Sox elected to set the former Cub free to look for a new home. Godspeed, Carlos Silva!
Verdict: Nope

Aaron Cook (non roster invite)
In 5.1 innings, all against Baltimore, Cook has given up one lonely hit and no runs. A sinkerballer who thrives on keeping the ball on the ground, Cook has been successful so far as eight of his sixteen outs have come on grounders. Cook has an opt-out clause in his contract that would allow him to become a free agent if he isn't on the major league roster by May 1st, but as he's returning from injury it's unlikely the Sox rush him back to the majors. If Cook is healthy and pitching like he did a few years ago pre-shoulder injury in Colorado he's a perfectly serviceable fourth or fifth starter and he's done nothing this spring to disprove that. Still, he'll likely get to continue his progress for the Paw Sox.
Verdict: Possible rotation candidate, but likely headed AAA.

Felix Doubront
Doubront has thrown ten and two thirds innings this spring and has fared acceptably. He's K'd eight while walking five so he hasn't been dominant, but Doubront doesn't necessarily have to be dominant to win the job. Still, impressing the new manager might not hurt either and it doesn't sound as if he's done that. There is more time left and Doubront is out of options meaning to get him back to AAA they'd have to put him through waivers which almost certainly would result in him pitching for a different major league team this season, which the Sox don't want. Thus, to keep Doubront they'll have to keep him on the major league roster. If he isn't in the rotation then he may start the year as a long man out of the pen.
Verdict: Possible rotation candidate, though pitching a bit better wouldn't hurt.

Alfredo Aceves
Aceves entered spring training as a rotation candidate, but despite being talked up as a possible starter, the feeling all along has been that his value is at its greatest when he's in the bullpen. Aceves has thrown nine innings only giving up one run this spring, but two of his three appearances have come out of the bullpen, something you wouldn't think the team would do if he was a serious candidate for the rotation. It isn't that Aceves couldn't be a starter, it's that the Red Sox are probably better off if he isn't.
Verdict: Possible rotation candidate, but baring an outbreak of East German Muskrat Flu likely headed for the bullpen.

Andrew Miller
The candidate we've all learned to fear, Andrew Miller has thrown just three innings this spring due to slight shoulder discomfort. In that brief time on the mound he struck out five and walked two. It's impressive as these things go, but we all should know by now to ignore small samples with Miller. Miller's role in Boston is likely going to be out of the bullpen where his career holds the most promise at this point. Maybe in very small spurts Miller can learn to harness his large frame and repeat his delivery. There's always hope, though if you see him on the mound in the first inning of any game with a B on his hat this season it will mean something awful has likely happened.
Verdict: No thanks. The pen is that way, pal.

Ross Ohlendorf (non roster invite)
Not unlike Aaron Cook, Ohlendorf was a moderately successful starting pitcher for a National League team a few years ago before injuries derailed his career. Ohlendorf's 3.2 innings pitched this spring haven't been spectacular (2 Ks, 3 BBs) though he's only given up a hit and no runs. At this point though Ohlendorf is headed for Pawtucket. That said, if he got a spot start in Boston at some point it wouldn't be the end of the world.
Verdict: AAA bound, but you could do worse if it came down to it.

Brandon Duckworth (non roster invite)
Duckworth has thrown three innings this spring but there would have to be a cataclysmic event to get him into the Red Sox starting rotation. And if there wasn't one, then I'd create one upon hearing about it. The reason is Duckworth just isn't a very good pitcher and at 35 there isn't anything in the way of upside. Still, as AAA rotation fodder you could do worse. Probably.
Verdict: Fourth or fifth starter, sure, but in AAA.

Vincente Padilla (non roster invite)
Padilla was one of the guys who came into the spring with a a bit of a leg up on the competition. He's not pitched spectacularly (10 innings, 5 runs) but he does have 10 Ks and only one walk during that time so there might be something there. The final decision on how Padilla is pitching will be based less on the stats and more on how he looks on the mound to the coaching staff and front office. There has been talk of putting Padilla in a bullpen role and Padilla himself apparently doesn't object to that, so that does give the team a way to make use of him if not in the rotation. Having Padilla in the pen would be a nice back up plan, but with Andrew Miller and Felix Doubront potentially as pen-mates, how many back up plans does one team need? What the Sox need is an actual starter, not another back up plan. Padilla could be that guy, though when I saw him last week he sure didn't look like it. But then I was watching the game with two Phillies fans, so that couldn't have helped.
Verdict: Fourth or fifth starter material. Probably on the major league roster one way or the other.

Daniel Bard
We've talked Daniel Bard's role on the team to death this off season, and Bard does seem to have the fourth starter spot locked up despite some uneven performances. In 7.2 innings so far this spring Bard has given up seven runs. But! All of those runs came in his last outing. Meaning: he's had two good performances and one giant stinker. At least in terms of stuff and upside, this is by far the Red Sox best option.
Verdict: Considering the competition, he's gotta still be the fourth (of fifth) starter come opening day. Whether he stays there throughout the season is anyone's guess.

* * *

The team is starting to take shape and much of the roster flotsam and jetsam is or will shortly be jettisoned, moved to its rightful place either on the AAA roster or the street. As of now you'd have to say the leaders for the fourth and fifth spots are Bard and Padilla, but that last spot could easily go to Doubront or even Cook. Miller and Aceves are likely headed for pen duty, as is the loser of the Padilla/Doubront competition. There are fifteen games left in spring training so the Sox have time yet to make a decision. Were it up to me, at this point I'd give it to Bard and Doubront with Padilla in the pen.

That covers what has happened and what I think. What do you think? Given what you've seen in spring training, who would you like to see as the fourth and fifth starters?

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