Thursday, September 17, 2009

Francona in favor of a healthy scratch system

Ramon Ramirez has thrown 37 pitches in the last couple of games. Daniel Bard has thrown 24. Neither likely will be available for the Red Sox in the series finale against the Angels.

But they're not the only ones. Takashi Saito threw 25 pitches a night ago after going 10 days without pitching. He's likely not available. Manny Delcarmen threw 18 pitches in his inning of work. He's probably not available for more than a hitter or two.

The Red Sox, then, should be working with a fairly limited bullpen. Jonathan Papelbon and Billy Wagner are fresh and ready to go, and lefty Hideki Okajima threw just 12 pitches in facing three hitters on Wednesday night. There shouldn't be much left beyond those three -- and if the Angels can get to Josh Beckett early, they ought to have a distinct advantage.

It's September, though -- and that eliminates that advantage.

The Red Sox have two extra pitchers in the bullpen in Michael Bowden and Junichi Tazawa. They also have four catchers and seven infielders and seven outfielders and the ability to adapt to pretty much any scenario.

On Wednesday night, in fact, Red Sox manager Terry Francona employed four pinch-hitters, one pinch-runner and two defensive replacements. Joey Gathright scored a run. Josh Reddick scored a run. Jed Lowrie had a hit. Nick Green drew a walk. By the end of the game, catcher George Kottaras was the only position player left in the Red Sox dugout.

Francona used all the weapons available to him within the rules.

But that doesn't mean he agrees with those rules.

"I actually don't like it," he said. "There needs to be some amendments to the rules. I understand wanting to call up players; I think that's great. But you play all year under one set of rules and then, all of a sudden, it's Sept. 1, and it's vastly different."

Football has its list of actives and inactives. Hockey has its healthy scratches. Basketball has its "DNP."

Only in baseball is the entire active roster allowed to participate in every game. A team suits up 25 players for each of its games and can use all 25 in every game if it wants. Come September, though, it can suit up 40 players -- and it can use all 40.

The advantage gained by getting into an opposing team's bullpen early in the first or second game of a series disappears when there are 10 or 12 pitchers in that bullpen. The advantage of bringing in a lefty to pitch to a lefty evaporates when a team has endless righthanded bats available on its bench.

"There's just too many players," Francona said. "You can have a bullpen -- and hopefully a good bullpen -- and you're never going to match up with somebody because they can keep running guys out. I'm not sure that's the way they meant for it to be drawn up."

Francona isn't about to choose not to use the players he has.

"You do anything you can to win," he said. "When you have players available, sometimes you get in a game like (Wednesday) night where you use them."

The solution, it would seem, would be a similar system to what the NFL, NBA and NHL have: The active roster still could consist of 40 players in September, but each team might only be allowed to dress 25.

"Maybe 30," Francona said. "I understand the need to expand -- but not crazy numbers."

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