The Red Sox have made it official: Clay Buchholz will start on Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Rays if no problems arise during his upcoming bullpen session.
It's been a long wait for the Red Sox and their fans, but the team has done better than just survived, establishing themselves as the clear leaders in the American League East with an 8.5 game lead over their closest competition in the Tampa Bay Rays. Still, with the playoffs on the horizon, the Sox will welcome back the man who pitched to an outstanding 1.71 ERA in the early months of the year.
What's not entirely clear is who Clay Buchholz will be replacing. While many have anticipated his return as the end of the struggling Ryan Dempster's season, there's an argument to be made for removing Felix Doubront instead. The young left-hander ran into something of a wall in 2012 as he approached his previous height in innings pitched,, and while he's managed to go beyond that previous high in 2013, there are signs that he's wearing down once again.
If so, that would not be the end of the world. Young pitchers often take a while to build up the stamina to pitch 200 innings, and even after his last performance Doubront has certainly taken a significant step forward. But at this point his development might be best-served by a break, while the Sox can certainly afford to run Dempster out there a few more times.
Giving Doubront some time off could also potentially insure the Sox against an imperfect return for Buchholz. While right now neither Doubront or Dempster would need to feature in a four-man postseason rotation, if Buchholz has lost it in the intervening months, then having a rested Doubront ready to pitch in the playoffs would certainly be the next best option. Hopefully that scenario never arises, but it doesn't hurt to plan.
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