Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wakefield arrives, rotation stabilizes

Well, that might be that.

It's dangerous to make too much out of one start, but if Tim Wakefield can pitch like that for the rest of the season, the Red Sox rotation might be all set once again -- whether Daisuke Matsuzaka makes it back to the major leagues or not.

(The Red Sox appear to agree: Brad Penny was granted his release late Wednesday night after watching Wakefield's start from the bullpen. It was interesting to watch Penny walk out to the bullpen before the game -- he had his arm around Manny Delcarmen much of the way. A roster spot now is clear for Billy Wagner to join the team on Thursday.)

Wakefield tossed seven outstanding innings, allowing six hits and one run while striking out three and walking one. He allowed a run in the first inning when Paul Konerko hit a towering triple to center field, but he retired seven straight after that and diddn't allow another hit until Carlos Quentin's swinging bunt in the top of the fifth. He allowed two runners to reach base in the seventh inning but retired Alexei Ramirez on a pop fly to shortstop to end the inning -- and his night.

He threw 94 pitches. He threw 73 of them for strikes. He didn't miss the strike zone until the second inning.

"I had better command than I did in Pawtucket, obviously, throwing a lot of strikes with a lot of movement," he said. "That kind of set the tone early in the first inning."

Even better, just one knuckleball slipped out of the glove of catcher Victor Martinez -- who was wearing a first baseman's mitt to give himself a better chance.

"He's worked hard the last two weeks catching my sides and playing catch with me out in the outfield," Wakefield said. "For the first time catching me in a game situation with hitters up there, he did a phenomenal job."

All of a sudden, a rotation once in tatters looks like it's coming together. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester remain the aces at the top of the rotation, and Wakefield slides right into the role of No. 3 starter he filled during his All-Star first half. Clay Buchholz had a rough go of things on Monday but had strung together three solid starts before that, and Junichi Tazawa has allowed either one run or zero runs in two of his three stars in the major leagues.

On top of that, Daisuke Matsuzaka is on his way back looking slim and trim and reportedly throwing better than he ever did this spring.

The Red Sox could go into the final weeks of the pennant race with the same starting rotation with which they opened the season -- with the exception of Buchholz assuming the role Penny once did. Both Buchholz and Tazawa then would be candidates to pitch out of the bullpen in the playoffs or, if Matsuzaka hits a roadblock, to make a Game 4 start in the first round.

These things really do work themselves out in the end.

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