The season started off so well for Tim Wakefield. He finished April with a 2-1 record and a 2.78 earned run average in 32.1 innings of work. Now, through 25.0 innings of May, Wakefield is 2-2 with a 6.12 ERA. Was the hot start just a fluke, or can Wakefield regain his stuff and become the starter we need him to be?
He had his worst start of the year last night against the Atlanta Braves, pitching five innings and giving up six earned runs on the night. This was his fifth consecutive start of allowing three or more earned runs in a game. In that span he is 2-3, and has raised his ERA by 1.46 points, resting at 4.24 at this point in the season.
So what do we do with him? Do we keep putting him out there on the mound so he can keep raising his ERA? Or do we do the gutsy thing - the thing Terry Francona may be ripped for - and place him in the bullpen and use him when we need him once all our starting pitchers are healthy? If I were Tito Francona, but I'm certainly not because I'm not middle-aged and balding, then I would vote for the latter and send Wake to the bullpen, whether he likes it or not.
Before the season started I was saying the same thing about Wakefield: place him in the bullpen and use him when the situation is right. For example, if the wind is blowing in towards the plate all night long than we wouldn't use Wakefield because usually that has a bad effect on the knuckleball, and, since he is a "knuckleball" pitcher, his performance would be affected. If he were a starter in that situation, though, he would have to pitch in bad conditions for a knuckleball and, therefore, probably have a bad game. I've seen a game or two where the conditions are bad for a knuckleball and Wakefield still performs well, but that doesn't happen often enough to take your chance on a pitcher who will be flirting with a five plus ERA after another bad start.
If Curt Schilling and David Wells are healthy - and we aren't really sure about Wells because of his extremely poor outing earlier this week - than we obviously have an extra starting pitcher to deal with. You can make the argument that Wells should go to the bullpen, but Francona won't put him in there when he's only made three appearances out of the pen since 1993. On the other hand, there is Wakefield who has pitched in 34 games out of the pen since 2002.
Wakefield is a good fit for the pen not only because he's struggling a little bit right now, and also because pitchers like Matt Clement, Bronson Arroyo and Wade Miller are succeeding, but because he's actually really good as a reliever. Since 2002, Wakefield has a 3.15 ERA out of the pen and opponents are hitting just .217 against him in 71.1 innings. If that doesn't scream "bullpen!" then I don't know what does.
It's time to put to bed all the bad ideas, and maybe break a few hearts in the process. If Wakefield doesn't want to go to the bullpen, then that's too bad for him. That's where the Sox need him, and that's where he should be.