Josh Beckett returned to action last night, and looked pretty good for having missed two weeks. Admittedly, it was against the Mariners, but getting in a last warmup against a Triple-A offense is useful for pitchers coming off an injury. (Yes, M's fans, I understand the Sox have lost two of these three games. This is hardly the fault of the Seattle offense.) Beckett's return has prompted Bobby Valentine to shift to a six-man rotation until the All-Star break, but this does leave open the question of how the rotation will look once the break's done.
Beckett, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz (assuming a rapid return, which this year may be foolish) will certainly remain the top three. Felix Doubront, although a bit shaky in his last few starts, has certainly earned a spot for the moment. This leaves Aaron Cook, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Franklin Morales as the options for the fifth starter's role. This morning, we leave it to you to discuss and decide who'd be the best option.
Matsuzaka's been interesting this year. Since his return from Tommy John surgery, Matsuzaka has started four games. He's struck out 20, walked six, and given up 12 runs in 22 innings. This is actually pretty encouraging. He's still been unable to go very deep in games, not getting out of the sixth in either of his last two starts, despite throwing 100 pitches. And of course we're all waiting for the first start in which he walks five and throws his hundredth pitch in the fourth. Of the three, he has the longest recent track record as a starter, and that record is either a plus or a minus depending on how you look at it.
Cook has only seen very light use. His first start back was cut short by a freak injury at home plate. His last start was an 81-pitch complete game shutout. His peripherals in that tiny sample are bizarre even by sinkerball standards: 16.2 innings, 8 earned runs, two (really, two) strikeouts, one walk, and 36 grounders. Everything we know about baseball suggests that a guy whose strikeout rate stands at 1.08 K/9 is probably due for a serious correction. Then again, he's decently efficient, and the Sox infield is pretty good, so who knows?
Morales is the fascinating member of the trio. Called upon in an emergency to start for Josh Beckett after three years in the bullpen, he's thrived as a starter. In three starts, Morales has struck out 24, walked only three, and given up four runs. His stuff has totally dominated opposing hitters, and he looks like a completely different pitcher than the occasionally effective middle relief guy we'd all gotten nervous about. He won't keep up a 12 K/9, but he could lose three or four off that and still be a damn fine starter. Especially a fifth starter with a deep bullpen behind him.
So who'll it be, folks? The maddeningly inconsistent starter who's at least proven he can start for a whole season? The recycled veteran firing sinker upon sinker and counting on Dustin Pedroia to do his job? Or the longtime relief arm who's suddenly striking out everyone in sight? Chat away.