Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Red Sox pitching staff keeps getting thinner

When the Red Sox placed Junichi Tazawa on the 60-day disabled list, ending his rookie season, they made an interesting decision: They summoned shortstop Chris Woodward back from his home in Tampa, Fla., to provide depth in the infield.

The reason Woodward fits is clear. With Nick Green suffering from an as yet undiagnosed weakness in his leg, the Red Sox were down to just one backup middle infielder -- Jed Lowrie, whose lingering wrist injury has wiped out most of his season. Should Alex Gonzalez or Dustin Pedroia suffer any type of minor injury that would keep them out for a few days, the presence of Woodward allows the Red Sox to fill that spot without needing to push Lowrie too hard.

But swapping out Tazawa for Woodward does something else for the Red Sox: It leaves an already thin pitching staff even thinner.

With the Sept. 1 expansion of rosters comes an opportunity for teams to bring on board more pitchers, an opportunity to spread out the workload a little bit on a staff worked hard during the season's first five months.

Teams normally go with an 11- or 12-man pitching staff. Most have added four or five pitchers to the staff for the final month of the season. Half of them have 16 or more on their roster right now.

Baltimore's Dave Trembley turned calls to the bullpen into his own sophisticated form of Chinese water torture -- something he could do without issue because he has 18 pitchers to call upon. Both the Rockies and the Yankees are have 19.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, have 14. Having played all season with 12 pitchers, they used the Sept. 1 roster expansion to add just two more: Michael Bowden and the recently activated Daisuke Matsuzaka. Other than Bowden, the Red Sox are pitching with the same bullpen they've used all year.

It makes for some difficult in situations like Tuesday night, a night in which the Red Sox have Paul Byrd on the mound and no long reliever in the bullpen -- an almost unthinkable situation for a team to be in come September.

What's interesting is that two pitchers are available but are sitting at home. The Red Sox only have activated 34 of their available 40 players this month -- catcher Mark Wagner; infielders Aaron Bates, Chris Carter, and Jose Inglesias; and pitchers Felix Doubront and Hunter Jones haven't gotten the call. (Carter is effectively ineligible because he'll be traded to the Mets to complete the Billy Wagner deal.)

If the Red Sox want to go all-out to try to catch the Yankees for the division title, they won't pitch Bowden much and instead will stick with the relievers that have done the job so far.

If they want to ease off the accelerator and avoid overtaxing those same relievers, though, it might take more a pitching staff that goes more than 14 deep. It might take Doubront or Jones -- pitchers who, to this point, have not been summoned.

Doubront is something of a longshot. He's just 21 years old and threw 121 innings this season for Double-A Portland -- more innings than Clay Buchholz threw when he was 21 years old. He's never pitched above Double-A, either. He's likely been shut down for the season the way most Red Sox pitching prospects are after they hit a certain plateau.

The decision by the Red Sox not to call up Jones, though, is a curious one. Jones made eight appearances earlier this season when Daisuke Matsuzaka first went on the disabled list in April, and he's remained on the 40-man roster even while spending the rest of the season at Triple-A Pawtucket. His numbers weren't spectacular -- he had a 4.25 ERA in 53 innings pitched with the PawSox -- but the Tazawa-less Red Sox aren't in a position to be picky. If he can ease the burden on Hideki Okajima (59 innings pitched) or Ramon Ramirez (64 innings pitched), he'll have done his job.

If he's kept himself in any kind of pitching shape over the last couple of weeks -- he last pitched on Sept. 6 -- don't be surprised if he gets the call in the next few days.

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