Friday, April 17, 2009

Confirmed: Masterson to start Monday

As expected, starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter Justin Masterson will get the ball on Monday against the Orioles.

Red Sox manager Terry Francona said he and pitching coach John Farrell had contemplated pushing Tim Wakefield up a day; the day off Thursday means he'd still be pitching on four days' rest. But with the knuckleballer having pitched a complete game on Wednesday and the Patriots Day game scheduled to start at 11 a.m., Francona opted to give the veteran an extra day to rest.

(Interestingly, Wakefield has better numbers in his career on four days' rest than on five days' rest -- his ERA is 4.18 in 201 starts on four days' rest and 4.57 in 120 starts on five days' rest. The numbers probably aren't significant enough, though, to override the advantages of not overworking a 42-year-old arm.)

That means Masterson will make his 10th career big-league start as the Boston Marathon runners are cruising through Kenmore Square. The second-year sinkerballer started the season in the bullpen but threw as many as 81 pitches in his outings in spring training; by the time he'd thrown 60 pitches in relief of Daisuke Matsuzaka on Tuesday, the decision pretty much had made itself.

"It's hard to go through that in the middle of a game when you're in Oakland, but when we brought him in early, there was some thought to, 'Oh, let's get him at least...'" Francona said. "He needed to get them out, which he did. But we wanted to get him to a certain pitch count so he could go out and give us a game where you're not going through the whole bullpen."

Masterson made four relief appearances in the first 10 days of the season, throwing fewer than 10 pitches in two of those. But it's still been less than a month since the end of spring training -- hardly enough time for him to be on a regimented routine as a short reliever.

"The way he was treated this spring was mostly as a starter," Francona said. "If he'd started getting out there a ways, it's a little hard to ask somebody to throw 80 or 85 pitches. It's certainly easier, once you're into the season, to go back to the bullpen. But we're only two weeks, nine games into it."

Masterson had a significantly lower ERA last season as a reliever (2.36) than as a starter (3.67). Part of the reason for that was the Red Sox could dictate matchups when bringing Masterson in out of the bullpen; the then-rookie saw lefties hit .238 and get on base at a .365 clip against him as opposed to .196 and .274 for righties.

With Masterson in the bullpen, Francona could save him for a stretch of tough righties. With Masterson as a starter, opposing teams are likely to stack their lineup with lefties.

"If he pitches like he can, he'll get people out," Francona said. "When he uses his changeup and his breaking ball and locates his fastball, a lot like any pitcher, because of his style, it doesn't mean he can't be tough on lefties. It just means he's real tough on righties."

It helps a lot that the Red Sox have a swingman like Masterson, but he's nothing new on their pitching staff. It's only been two years since Julian Tavarez was doing the same double duty. Tavarez started 23 games and made 11 relief appearances in 2007; he started six games and made 52 relief appearances in 2006.

"Julian was amazing at that," Francona said. "He could go a long time (without starting), and then he'd take the ball and say, 'You can leave me out here all day.' He sucked up a lot of innings when he probably shouldn't have, but it helped save our staff at times. He was amazing at that. ... He understood that sometimes that was part of his role, was sucking up some innings that maybe weren't the glamorous ones but that helped us win games down the road."

Other notes from Francona's pregame get-together with we notebook-toting types:

* Josh Beckett, who has appealed his six-game suspension, will make his scheduled start on Saturday against the Orioles. There's nothing new on the status of that appeal.

* Lefty Hunter Jones, called up from Triple-A Pawtucket on Wednesday, is in the bullpen today. Francona declined, though, to say whether Jones would stick with the team even through the weekend.It remains possible, though, that the Red Sox could send down Jones and bring up Clay Buchholz if Beckett either was denied in his appeal or opted to drop his suspension in time for Friday's game against the Yankees.

* Jed Lowrie walked through the locker room with his wrist in a soft cast; Francona said he'll stay in the splint for another five days or so. The plan is for the player, the manager and the general manager all to meet with doctors this evening to plot out a course of action.

"We also, afte talking today with Jed at length, want to visit with (team doctor) Tom Gill and him together tonight, just to get a little better handle," he said. "Jed is a really intelligent kid and has a lot of questions, which is good. But at the same time, I don't feel qualified to answer them -- and when he asks questions, they make sense to me, so I'd like to sit there and listen myself. I think Theo (Epstein) felt the same way."

* Mark Kotsay and Julio Lugo both played in an extended spring-training game in Fort Myers today. Lugo had five plate appearances and ran the bases a couple of times, while Kotsay had two plate appearances, lining out to deep center field in one of them. Team vice president Craig Shipley reported that everything seemed to go well for both players.

* John Smoltz will pitch on Saturday in Fort Myers.

* Remember the last time Jeremy Guthrie started a pre-Memorial Day game at Fenway Park? Hint: He went 8 1/3 innings and allowed just three hits and took the loss in a game that went down as the Mother's Day Miracle.

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