Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How the Red Sox rotation shakes out

Terry Francona and John Smoltz both made the announcement that Smoltz will make his first Red Sox start on June 25, a week from Thursday, against the woeful Washington Nationals.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was hammered today in a Boston Herald column Francona did not enjoy -- "I feel bad for the players sometimes," he said. "I didn't realize what the players were going through publicly, and I feel bad about that." -- will not be bumped from the rotation. Instead, he'll be pushed back a day. So, too, will the rest of the Red Sox starting staff -- and the Red Sox will indeed employ a six-man starting rotation until the All-Star Game.

(That means the first big-league stint of rookie Daniel Bard is likely to come to an end on June 24, the day before Smoltz is activated. Bard can easily be dispatched back to Pawtucket, and he and Clay Buchholz can resume carving up Triple-A hitters together.)

Here's how the Red Sox rotation would shake out in the 10 days or so after Smoltz makes his Red Sox debut:

* June 25 at Washington: Smoltz (seven days' rest)
* June 26 at Atlanta: Matsuzaka (six days' rest)
* June 27 at Atlanta: Josh Beckett (six days' rest)
* June 28 at Atlanta: Tim Wakefield (six days' rest)
* June 29 at Baltimore: Brad Penny (five days' rest)
* June 30 at Baltimore: Jon Lester (five days' rest)
* July 1 at Baltimore: Smoltz (five days' rest)
* July 3 vs. Seattle: Matsuzaka (six days' rest)
* July 4 vs. Seattle: Beckett (six days' rest)
* July 5 vs. Seattle: Wakefield (six days' rest)
* July 6 vs. Oakland: Penny (six days' rest)
* July 7 vs. Oakland: Lester (six days' rest)
* July 8 vs. Oakland: Smoltz (six days' rest)

It's a gamble. There's no question about it. Pitching on five or six days' rest is an adjustment for players accustomed to pitching on four days' rest; Wakefield and Smoltz both have better career numbers on four days' rest than five.

On top of that, removing Bard from the bullpen would increase the strain on the remaining relievers -- and Hideki Okajima and Ramon Ramirez already are among the American League leaders in appearances.

But if the Red Sox can get to the All-Star Game without having lost a starter or burned out their bullpen, they'll be in a position of tremendous strength as they decide what do to with their glut of quality starting pitching.

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