Monday Red Sox Notes: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Aaron Cook, Anthony Ranaudo, Will Middlebrooks

ANAHEIM, CA: Daisuke Matsuzaka #18 of the Boston Red Sox throws a pitch against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

With the rain out Sunday night, there isn't a whole lot going on with the Red Sox that hasn't already been covered. Marlon Byrd was the latest addition to the team until Lars Anderson also found himself on the Red Sox. Jason Repko is now on the disabled list, while Nate Spears has been designated for assignment to make room for Byrd. Daniel Bard is still a starter, but he might show up in relief in between now and then, given no one else seems to be doing much showing up in that role.

That leaves most of the team's real, latest news as happenings on the farm. Tonight marks the first start for Daisuke Matsuzaka in his return from Tommy John surgery, and the ticking of a 30-day clock for his rehab assignment in the minors. He's set to be back in the majors for May 18, less than a month from now, but the Red Sox have a few days of wiggle room before they are forced to clear a spot for him.

Matsuzaka was terrible the last time we saw him, but his elbow was also in a state that required Tommy John. It's difficult to look at his most recent body of work and not wonder just how much of it was due to health, and not an inability for Dice-K to perform. That's not to say he's going to come back and pitch like the starter the Red Sox hoped they were getting back when they signed him out of Japan, but there's plenty of realistic reason to think he can be productive for Boston in the final year of his deal.

Most of the frustration with Dice-K stems from the fact that he was expected to be more than he is, but what he actually is when you scratch out 2011's injury-shortened campaign is a starter with a 110 ERA+ and twice as many strikeouts as walks who has more trouble staying healthy than he does getting outs -- and the two are very much related. If having his UCL repaired helps to keep him on the mound, then Boston has a pitcher they can use, even if it's unrealistic to ever expect something like 2008 from him again.

He has to get there first, though, and as other pitchers have shown over the years, a pitcher's arm being ready for a rehab assignment is not the same as thing as being ready to pitch effectively against live hitters. He'll get his first opportunity to show he's ready for the High-A Salem Red Sox tonight.

Aaron Cook is also pitching tonight, but for the Pawtucket Red Sox. According to Nick Cafardo and a major-league source, Cook has no interest in rescheduling his May 1 opt-out with the Red Sox -- this means he's going to need to be on the major-league roster if the team wants to keep him past that point.

Given how much better Cook likely is than the other starting pitching depth the Red Sox have around, keeping him could turn out to be a key for them this season. His 1.35 ERA over 20 innings isn't representative of what he's been doing, as he has the same number of walks as strikeouts, and doesn't have as high of a groundball rate as you would expect him to (2.3 times as many groundouts as flyball outs), but that doesn't mean he hasn't been good. It just means don't expect peak-years Cook to show up just because of he has a pretty ERA after 20 frames against a bunch of kids.

Bard having his start skipped has started up speculation that Cook might be on the way soon, and while that very well may end up being what happens, it's all speculation at this point. The Red Sox and Cook might be able to work something out, either in terms of his role or contract-adjustment, that keeps them from having to do anything rash just to get him to stay on. (We'll have more thoughts on potential roles later this week, as the deadline approaches.)

It's hard to be patient as a fan when the team is 4-10, but that's just what everyone involved needs to be.

*****

Anthony Ranaudo is making his 2012 debut in extended spring training. While he's actually a member of the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs this year, following his two-level 2011 debut, Ranaudo was slowed by a groin strain, and has to work back to the point where he can pitch in regular minor-league games.

Ranaudo was a bit of a disappointment for High-A Salem last year, with a 4.33 ERA in 81 innings, and a 2.2 K/BB. He still has the ceiling to be an effective starter in the middle of a rotation, but he'll need to get to Portland and show he deserved that promotion before people start to believe that again. As Alex Speier notes, the fact he was hitting 97 mph this spring before the groin injury is a positive sign.

*****

Baseball America's Ben Badler took a look at Will Middlebrooks this weekend, since the third base prospect has just been ripping International League pitchers apart to start 2012. In a nutshell, be excited about Middlebrooks, but save the cries of "Call him up!" for later on in the year.

That's the course to take, too, as Middlebrooks has always been on a slow-and-steady development program that's worked very well for him. The one time he saw a mid-season promotion was to finish out 2011, and that went about as poorly as the second time around at Triple-A has gone well. Replacing Kevin Youkilis is something the organization will have to get to eventually, but rushing Middlebrooks and keeping him from developing on the track he's been on isn't the way to go about it. Nor is it the time just yet -- we've seen prominent (and aging) Red Sox "hit" much worse than Youkilis has to start the year, before going all David Ortiz on the league the rest of the way. (Hint: we're talking about David Ortiz.)

*****

As a farewell to the traded Michael Bowden, Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal has a look at Bowden's development track, as well as the reasons the Cubs (and Red Sox) still think he can succeed in the majors. As we've written before, it wouldn't be the most shocking development, but there are plenty of reasons to think that it's not going to happen for him, too. He is very much a wait-and-see pitcher, given the disparity between his minor- and major-league time to this point.

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