July 1, 2012 Leave a comment
At the beginning of the year the Red Sox rotation was failing them. Daniel Bard was a disaster as a starter, Clay Buchholz looked to be struggling coming back from his 2011 back injury and Jon Lester was showing the same inconsistencies that he was last September. Add in the fact that an aging Josh Beckett was starting to show durability issues and the Red Sox rotation looked to be a major weakness at the beginning of the season. It’s rare that you have a season like 2004 when all of the Sox starters made every single one of their starts so starting pitching depth is important. Give credit to Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine for identifying two guys that could, and have, helped out the Red Sox rotation.
First is Aaron Cook who was in the running for a starters job in spring training and pitched well but was not stretched out due to an injury and had to start the year in Pawtucket. On May 5th the Red Sox called Cook up to replace an injured Josh Beckett and Cook was promptly spiked in the leg while covering home plate in the 2nd inning of that game. He headed on to the DL for another month and a half. When Clay Buchholz had to go on the DL with his stomach issues Cook was called on to take his place in the rotation.
Cook has made two starts in Buchholz’ absence and won them both. He has pitched 14 innings in the 2 games, giving up 3 runs on 8 hits. Cook’s good sinker has been on since he came off of the DL. Of the 42 outs that Cook has recorded so far as as a starter over half have come on the ground ball. Cook has only struck out 2 batters since he’s been back but he doesn’t really utilize the strike out. Cook’s start Friday night against the Mariners was one of the most efficient starts I have seen in a long time. He took care of the Mariners on 81 pitches and 2 hits, 1 of them being an infield single by Ichiro. He pounded the strike zone and let the Mariners hitters make contact and let his infielders do the rest. He only faced 1 batter over the minimum for the entire game. Cook is the type of pitcher, with that biting sinker, that will go on long hot streaks. If Cook can continue to pitch like he did Friday night it’s hard to see how the Red Sox wouldn’t use him somehow.
Franklin Morales was acquired by the Sox last year from the Colorado Rockies for nothing but cash. Morales did a fine enough job last season for Boston, finishing with a 3.62 ERA in 36 relief appearances. Morales was supposed to be one of the late inning guys for the Sox this season but he struggled early like the rest of the bullpen did and was relegated into more of a middle relief role. He is a guy who relies on control and has devastating strikeout stuff when he is getting the ball over the plate. Bobby Valentine started to rely on Morales in the longer situations out of the bullpen and he began to stretch him out and eventually when Josh Beckett’s shoulder landed on the DL Morales got the call to take his spot in the rotation.
Morales has made 3 starts since being put into the rotation. The Red Sox won the first 2 and lost the 3rd by a score of 1-0 against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez. Morales has pitched 18 innings in his 3 starts. In those 18 innings he’s given up 4 earned runs on 14 hits. His most impressive stat is the 24 strikeouts that he has piled up against only 3 walks in those 18 innings. Morales has been pin point with his control and when he gets ahead of hitters he has shown that he has the arsenal to put them away with his 95+ MPH fastball with a ton of movement to go with a devastating change-up that often catches hitters off guard. Morales was actually a starter on the 2007 Rockies team that lost to the Red Sox in the World Series but he is currently enjoying his biggest success as a starting pitcher. He looks to be filling the role that Alfredo Aceves did last year as the most versatile man on the Red Sox pitching staff.
Cook and Morales can help the Red Sox in several different ways from here on out. Morales will stay in the rotation, at least for the short term but you may see him bumped a la Aceves last season when they need someone else in the bullpen. Unlike last year however the bullpen has been great and unless they suffer a rash of injuries it doesn’t look like Morales will be all that needed in the pen. With Felix Doubront coming back down to earth a bit Morales has become the Sox’ best strikeout pitcher in the rotation. With his versatility he should not come off of the Red Sox roster for the rest of the year unless he is injured.
Cook is a different story. He was the subject of trade rumors while he was in Pawtucket early in the season and may be the subject of them again. If Cook can show that he is healthy and can contribute to a contending team, particularly in the National league then the Red Sox can move him for something of relatively good value. It’s not bad to get a good return on a guy that only makes 5 or 6 starts for you so if someone hits you with a good offer you have to listen. The Sox would still have Morales and Dice-K to go along with their original top 4 starters in the rotation and also have Clayton Mortensen and Aceves as back-up options if need be.
The Sox are best to ride both of these guys out while they’re hot and re-evaluate once we approach the trade deadline. One thing for certain is that you always need starting pitching depth and Cook and Morales have provided valuable depth for the Sox rotation.