Brad Penny isn't dumb. He's well aware of what's swirling around the Red Sox pitching staff these days, what with John Smoltz's rehab ending and Clay Buchholz's knocking growing louder and louder. He's pitching as well now as he has all season -- he hit 98 on the radar gun more than once on Thursday -- but he still has no control over his fate.
Terry Francona emphatically declined to speculate Thursday afternoon about how the Red Sox would handle their sudden glut of pitchers. There are several theories out there -- including a thought that the Red Sox could use Penny as a long reliever out of the bullpen, mostly as an insurance policy against an injury or chronic ineffectiveness.
The question was raised to Penny after his 117-pitch gem on Thursday night against the Yankees: How would the bullpen sound?
"I don't want to do that," he said.
He then asked a question that has no good answer: "Where are you going to go in this bullpen?"
(The only option, really, would be to send fireballing rookie Daniel Bard back to Triple-A, a place where he has pretty much nothing left to prove.)
Still, though, something has to give. Smoltz will make his final rehab start on Friday -- and you don't have a guy coming off shoulder surgery throw 90 or 95 pitches in his tuneups only to have him pitch out of the bullpen. But since there's no open spot in the starting rotation, Penny appears to be the odd man out. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester aren't going anywhere, Daisuke Matsuzaka is under contract for big money until 2012, and Tim Wakefield has been the team's most reliable starting pitcher all season.
"It's a good problem to have, I guess," Penny said.
It was easy to raise an eyebrow when Penny drilled Alex Rodriguez in the first inning. He threw a hard fastball inside on his first pitch to Rodriguez and then drilled him in the back of the shoulder with his third pitch.
Jason Bay, after all, has been hit twice by Yankee pitchers this season. Rodriguez seems to be a comparable target -- and that's the way the unwritten code tends to be applied.
Penny professed innocence, however.
"I was going hard in," he said. "He's a Hall of Fame hitter, so you've got to throw him in."
Said Francona, "That's not a situation where we're trying to put runners on base. We're trying to get outs."