In a career spanning 10 seasons, Aaron Cook has appeared in a total of 238 games, starting some 206 of them. Before making a sole appearance out of the pen late last year, Cook had not made a relief appearance since 2003, his second year in the majors.
Aaron Cook has been starting in Pawtucket, too. Five appearances, five starts, 33 innings, and a tidy 1.89 ERA. There's no real question that Aaron Cook can start. It's just whether or not he will. Where do the Red Sox want to go with their rotation moving forward?
Matthew Kory pointed out earlier today that the moves one would have expected in the preseason, such as Daniel Bard or Felix Doubront to the bullpen, aren't terribly likely now that they've established themselves as two of the best starters on the team (though Doubront's last outing wasn't terribly impressive results-wise, his 3.35 xFIP remains the lowest of the bunch). Instead, the man in question is Clay Buchholz.
There's no question that Clay Buchholz' performance so far has been unacceptable. While the Sox have managed to pull off three wins in his five starts with big offensive outputs, he's not even throwing at a level that can keep a team in the game on a typical day.
Now, for some pitchers we can brush that off as just a slow start. Jon Lester's April struggles, for instance, are expected, if not welcome. But is Clay the type of pitcher who can forget his first month and move on? Over his years with the team, he's gained a reputation as something of a head case, allowing small mishaps to derail him. So when you see Buchholz leave the mound the way he did in his last outing, visibly distraught after yet another meltdown, it does not inspire confidence that he's ready to bounce back.
There hasn't been much in the way of improvement, either. Other than a strong finish to his outing against Tampa, Buchholz hasn't been terribly impressive for any extended period on the mound. As much as he got through six innings with one run in his last outing, half of those innings were filled with walks and line drive outs to Marlon Byrd. That's not exactly a recipe for success. He hasn't been able to consistently find either his curve or his change, and his fastball is as wild as it's ever been.
It would not be hard for the Red Sox to shelve Clay Buchholz for a few weeks. They've got the ready-made excuse given his back, and then there are the blisters that came up yesterday. Mr. Kory points out that this is just a stop-gap, but in a way that's exactly what the Sox and Buchholz need. For Clay, it's a reset button: a chance to set himself right mentally and, if it's actually needed, physically. For the Sox, it's a way to maintain their rotation depth, get a struggling pitcher off the mound, and give Cook a run-out to see if he will work. Buchholz can take a couple of weeks off, and then take some rehab starts to find his feet again. If everyone else is still going strong by that point, then it will be a rotation crunch the Sox are happy to have.
As nice as it would be to have some more bullpen help, Aaron Cook is not the man for it. He's a pitcher who can get by on contact over long outings, but the Sox already have plenty of that in the bullpen. His best value is as someone who can keep the bullpen out of the game for seven innings without allowing too much damage. In a perfect world, that would actually be a downgrade compared to all the current rotation options, but at the moment it's much more than can be said for Clay Buchholz.