Red Sox want rotation depth, will keep Penny

June, 19, 2009
Be realistic. Jake Peavy and Erik Bedard probably won't be tradeable before Aug. 1. Drayton McLane is not moving Roy Oswalt. Jarrod Washburn could probably be had, and would be a good pickup for a National League team with a big ballpark (cue Dodgers, Mets and Giants).

And that's about it. Oh, Brad Penny would probably be the best starting pitcher out there, but unless someone comes up with a Justin Smoak, Matt LaPorta or Brett Wallace -- which isn't going to happen -- they are going to hold onto Penny, who is two years removed from finishing third in the NL Cy Young race.

Early in the season, Penny came out throwing 88-90 mph in the first couple of innings and gradually worked his way up to 94. After months of doing the Boston shoulder program, he's opened the first inning at 95 mph in his last five starts. In his last two starts, against the Yankees and Marlins, he hasn't allowed an earned run.

Granted, with John Smoltz coming into the rotation next Thursday against Washington, the Red Sox will have six starters. They want Josh Beckett and Jon Lester on their regular schedules.

"With some of the off days, getting this right won't be easy," pitching coach John Farrell said. "But I'd sure rather have too many starters than too few. We all know things can happen. We just have to figure a way to make it work. I'll take the depth." Which includes the minor league troika of Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden and Junichi Tazawa.

At this point, the Red Sox have been fortunate because they've only needed six starters; Justin Masterson took Daisuke Matsuzaka's spot when Matsuzaka was disabled early in the season. The Brewers and Giants have used only five starters all season, but the Elias Sports Bureau notes that in this decade, the only team that survived the season with just five starters was the 2003 Mariners.

So, a lot can happen. Tim Wakefield and Smoltz are 42 years old. Matsuzaka hasn't been the same since he prioritized the World Baseball Classic exhibitions over the Red Sox regular season. Things happen. Wakefield isn't working out of the 'pen; Jason Varitek isn't going to the bench to bring him in. It is doubtful Smoltz -- who pitched brilliantly last weekend for Pawtucket but topped out at 91 mph and averaged 85-88 -- could get ready quickly out of the bullpen.

In a real world Matsuzaka would be sent to Pawtucket with his 8.23 ERA. But this is not a real world, either the $100M paid for him or the commissioner trying to keep teams from protecting their investments in a meaningless showcase exhibition. Matsuzaka could be disabled, but he won't be able to do the physical rehab work and pitch in the minors, where he belongs.

One general manager says the Red Sox are "the only contending team shopping pitching," but right now Takashi Saito is the most likely to be traded. Boston has to pick up most of the pro-rated salary, and probably would pick up more, to get a prospect, and there have been several inquiries. Two weeks ago, they discussed a Saito-Hank Blalock deal, but Red Sox's GM Theo Epstein felt the club owed David Ortiz more time. Meanwhile, Chris Davis' struggles and Smoak's oblique injury in Triple-A may necessitate Blalock playing first base for the Rangers. The Red Sox have engaged the Angels about Maicer Izturis, but that hasn't gone anywhere.

Ortiz has hit much better over the last two weeks.

"I stopped trying to hit home runs and just go to the plate, see the ball and try to hit line drives," Ortiz said. "I was trying to hit homers so badly I got all messed up. I'll tell you this: I won't forget that when I hit bottom in my slump, the general manager and manager had my back."

The Phillies may regret not being more proactive on Penny three weeks ago. So may the Mets and Angels. But right now the Red Sox have what others would love, depth.

When Gene Orza spoke at the Red Sox's spring training site, he was barraged with questions about how the union could have failed to destroy the names from the 2003 anonymous steroid tests. Now Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa have been outed, even though no one in baseball has been more protective of players' rights than Orza.

Players from two different teams got into prolonged discussions this week about Sosa, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, et al.

"There is a lot of moral outrage being directed at Sammy," one veteran said. "But, let's be honest. Sosa, McGwire and Bonds made a lot of people a lot of money. The owners, the commissioner … all us players, whose salaries got dragged up."

Now we have the Dodgers trying to get their fans to flock to San Diego for the return of Manny Ramirez on July 3. With all the fanfare that will be attached to his return to Dodger Stadium, it's all about money. Period.

If Sosa could come back and help the Dodgers make money, they'd sign him in a heartbeat. Sammy can't help them anymore, but Manny will be their cash cow, and their only regret is that he got caught and they are missing 50 games worth of wigs and MannyLand revenues.

Instead of whining about Citi Field, David Wright figured it out. He may have only four homers, but he leads all third basemen in OPS and is on pace to have as many extra-base hits as last year.

"It took an adjustment," Wright said. "The idea is to hit line drives gap to gap. That's what I've concentrated on and not worrying about hitting balls to the warning track for easy outs. I've found two things. The first is that because the outfield is so huge, I'm getting some cheap hits at home. The second is that it's going to help us on the road because you get into good habits in a pitchers' park. It's a lot easier going from a pitchers' park to a hitters' park than vice versa."

There may be no stronger position than third base in the National League, with Wright as well as Ryan Zimmerman, the amazing Pablo Sandoval, Chipper Jones and Mark Reynolds. The Diamondbacks' third baseman went into the weekend second to Wright in OPS among third basemen, on pace for 44 homers, 106 runs, 114 RBIs, 31 steals and yes, 230 strikeouts. Reynolds, Wright and Zimmerman all played on the same Norfolk (Va.) AAU team, along with B.J. and Justin Upton.

It's been a trying season for Magglio Ordonez. During the WBC, he dealt with threats from Venezuelan Americans because of his relationship with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Then, for two months he was distracted by what he feared to be a serious illness to his wife. Now, with two homers and an OPS under .700, Ordonez was been benched "indefinitely." This could lead to an interesting potential grievance, since Ordonez is less than 200 plate appearances from vesting his 2010 option for $18 million.

Jim Leyland is trying to clear Ordonez's head, but if the benching lasts so long that his vesting option is jeopardized, this could get ugly.

Two scouts watching Oakland's Vin Mazzaro on Thursday agreed that they think he is "a young Chris Carpenter." One added, "I love Rick Porcello, but Mazzaro is the best young pitcher in the American League."

Speaking of the A's, Marlins catcher John Baker keeps being asked who's going to play him in the forthcoming "Moneyball" movie based on Michael Lewis' best seller about Billy Beane and the 2002 A's, in which Brad Pitt will play Beane. Baker was, along with Joe Blanton, Nick Swisher and Mark Teahen, part of the Moneyball Draft.

"I've already had one movie credit," Baker, who has developed into a premier defensive catcher, said. "I was in 'Summer Catch.'"

To Baker's credit, he admits it. "Summer Catch" ranks as one of the five worst sports movies ever made.

This week the Reds had Willy Taveras and Alex Gonzalez batting 1-2, with on-base percentages of .270 and .256.

Mark Mulder made considerable progress refinding his delivery after one session with pitching coach Rick Peterson. Mulder was once "The Natural," but he hurt his back lifting weights, which led to a cracked hip, which led to shoulder problems, and he forgot how to throw. But he's worked really hard to be back in late July, and he dreams of someday being able to play catch with his son in a major league uniform.

You can't root hard enough for him.

Or Smoltz. It just seems strange that Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux left the Braves with hard feelings. The Braves want to retire Maddux's number, but he has never forgotten that after the 2003 season he was left a phone message that the club would not be re-signing him.

The Mets seem convinced that Carlos Delgado will be back in August, so they are looking for an outfield bat. They made another run at Mark DeRosa, but would not discuss Bobby Parnell, just as the Cardinals wouldn't discuss Jason Motte or Chris Perez for DeRosa.

The state of flux caused by the delay in the Cubs sale will likely prohibit any major addition, but they feel they can add some payroll at the deadline.

The New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) is best known for its small, intellectual liberal arts schools. Bill Belichick is a Wesleyan guy. George Steinbrenner a Williams grad, although he never forgave the baseball program for cutting his son Hal. Neal Huntington and Ben Cherington were both outstanding players at Amherst, and are now front-office executives. Red Sox VP Sam Kennedy was once Trinity's third baseman. Red Sox assistant GM Jed Hoyer was a second baseman/closer on a Wesleyan team that lost to Jarrod Washburn and Wisconsin-Oshkosh in the Div. III championship game.

So, it is stunning that the Lowell Spinners of the New York-Penn League have four NESCAC players: pitcher Jeremiah Bayer, shortstop Tom Di Benedetto and catcher Sean Killeen from Trinity (which won the Div. III national championship last year); and infielder Drew Dominguez from Wesleyan.

"Lowell must have the highest board scores of any team in the New York-Penn League," one scout said.


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