One-third of an inning. One walk. One hit batsman. Two earned runs. That's how Hideki Okajima opened the season.
Is it too early to panic?
It's probably too early.
Okajima, after all, didn't even allow a hit. If Justin Masterson hadn't allowed a single to Evan Longoria, we wouldn't be having this conversation. His ERA would be 0.00.
But Masterson did give up that single. Those two runs did score. Okajima's ERA is, in fact, 54.00 after Tuesday's win over the Rays on Opening Day.
And that means we have to start wondering what we didn't let ourselves wonder last season or this spring: Is Okajima the weak link in this Red Sox bullpen?
Opponents hit just .212 off Okajima last season. But the way that number broke down gives us plenty of cause for concern:
* With the bases empty: .174
* With runners on base: .269
* With runners in scoring position: .300
Here's some context in the form of Manny Delcarmen:
* With the bases empty: .200
* With runners on base: .211
* With runners in scoring position: .239
And Javier Lopez:
* With the bases empty: .236
* With runners on base: .255
* With runners in scoring position: .200
And Jonathan Papelbon:
* With the bases empty: .188
* With runners on base: .280
* With the runners in scoring position: .231
And Ramon Ramirez (with the Royals):
* With the bases empty: .224
* With runners on base: .220
* With runners in scoring position: .192
In stark contrast to the other three, Okajima's numbers were like an exponential curve. As the situation got worse, so too did his pitching. Opponents looked helpless against Okajima when there was no one on base. When there were runners on base, though, they looked pretty decent -- and when there were runners in scoring position, they looked like All-Stars.
Here's the point: All of this has to make you wonder how much confidence Terry Francona is going to be be able to have in his 33-year-old lefty. Okajima already has demonstrated he has trouble pitching in the middle of an inning with men on base -- the situation when, you know, relievers tend to be most necessary. It's not encouraging that Okajima came into Tuesday's game at the start of an inning, with no one on base, and still left with a pair of earned runs to his name.
The Red Sox bullpen is incredibly deep. Papelbon, Delcarmen, Lopez, Ramirez, Justin Masterson and Takashi Saito all look like they're going to fit perfectly into their roles in the bullpen. Saito, Delcarmen and Masterson will pitch in the seventh and the eighth innings; Lopez and Ramirez will pitch against lefties and righties, respectively, in big spots. Papelbon, of course, will close.
But the shaky outing delivered by Okajima on Tuesday give us reason to worry that there isn't a spot in which he really can be used. Can he be used to get out of a jam? Probably not. Can he be used at the start of an inning? At this point, the jury is still out.
On the bright side: How about Josh Beckett? How about Kevin Youkilis? How about Jason Bay? How about Dustin Pedroia? How about the fact that eight of nine hitters had at least one hit and six of nine had either a run scored or an RBI? How about the fact that the Red Sox sent James Shields back to Tampa with an 8.44 ERA?
How about: It's baseball season!