The game itself was crazy enough.
A seemingly clean march to victory by the Red Sox instead nearly ran off the rails. The Sox led 3-1 in the top of the eighth, but Daniel Bard needed just five pitches to concede the advantage, with Tigers Brennan Boesch and Miguel Cabrera taking him deep — both on offspeed offerings — to tie the game.
Then, Jonathan Papelbon nearly gave up the game in the ninth before he recovered from a bases-loaded, one-out situation to punch out Boesch and Cabrera — both on explosive fastballs — to maintain the tie. Then in the bottom of the inning, the Sox nearly saw their own rally extinguished when a bases-loaded, no-out flare to left resulted in a forceout at the plate.
No matter. Carl Crawford lined a 93 mph fastball to center field for the game-winning, walkoff single to give the Sox a 4-3 victory. (Recap.)
The Sox’ sixth straight victory was wild enough. But it was nothing compared to the intensity of the roster churn that was sweeping the team.
For all of the Sox’ on-field struggles to start the year, health had not been a factor in the team’s puzzling performance. The only injury the team suffered in April was a mild lat strain by reliever Matt Albers; he was the only member of the team’s Opening Day roster to spent any time on the DL until the first week of May. The roster composition was dictated primarily by performance rather than health.
The relative roster stability started to erode in the early days of May. Relievers Bobby Jenks (right biceps) and Dan Wheeler (calf) were placed on the DL on May 5, though in Wheeler’s case especially, that was as much a function of his poor early-season performance as it was of a minor injury.
The trip to the DL by Marco Scutaro — the first of the year by a position player — as notable for the fact that it led to the major league debut of Jose Iglesias than for the consequence to the team of a player who’d been relegated to backup utility duty.
But this week has been different. Two starting pitchers landed on the DL while another left a game with an injury.
By Friday, the Sox will have four faces on their 25-man major league roster who weren’t on the team at the start of the week, including one who wasn’t on the 40-man roster and another who wasn’t even in the organization. The team also made another noteworthy addition by signing a player to a minor league contract.
It seems only fitting that the Sox will welcome the Cubs for their first Fenway Park showdown since 1918, and that the Sox will be wearing retro uniforms in the style of that season that feature neither team nor player names. The degree of anonymity will seem only appropriate for a team that will suddenly seem unfamiliar.
In an effort to understand the current shape of the Red Sox roster, here is a look at the players moving in both directions:
Out: John Lackey
Out: Daisuke Matsuzaka
To be monitored: Josh Beckett
The madness began on Monday, when the Sox made a surprise announcement just prior to the start of the game that John Lackey was being placed on the disabled list for an elbow strain, with Scott Atchison being recalled in his place. That night, when Matsuzaka showed diminished velocity (never hitting 90 mph on the radar gun) and dreadful command (7 walks), the groundwork for his trip to the DL had been laid, with Michael Bowden called up in Matsuzaka’s place on Wednesday.
Matsuzaka will be out for more than a month due to a sprain of his ulnar collateral ligament and a strained flexor mass.
Lackey’s injury has been characterized as somewhat less serious, given that manager Terry Francona said that he could have pitched through it in a pivotal stretch of the season. Matsuzaka, on the other hand, acknowledged that he was no longer capable of pitching through the pain he was experiencing.
No team ever wants to see a starter go down with an injury, let alone to lose two in two days. Even so, Lackey and Matsuzaka have both struggled for most of the 2011 season, pitching to a combined 5-8 record and 6.69 ERA while averaging just over 5 1/3 innings per start. Of the 14 starts made between the pair, five met the standard (6 or more innings, 3 or fewer runs) of a quality start.
While the production of Lackey and Matsuzaka is replaceable, Josh Beckett is not. He has performed at an elite level to this point in 2011, with a 1.73 ERA. His exit from Thursday night’s game with a stiff neck, then, was the sort of thing to set off alarm bells.
However, Beckett insisted that the injury was “just a little muscle spasm,” and both he and manager Terry Francona downplayed it.
“I don’t think it’s anything serious at all. But it’s better to be cautious especially with the situation we’re in with starters.”
THE STARTING RIPPLE EFFECT
From bullpen to rotation: Alfredo Aceves
From bullpen to rotation: Tim Wakefield
In: Kevin Millwood
In theory, the Sox should not have a terribly difficult time at least matching – and more likely improving upon – the results that Lackey and Matsuzaka achieved before landing on the DL. Even so, the Sox’ need to plumb multiple depth options at once had a cascading effect on the pitching staff.
The Sox had to install a pair of their bullpen options into the rotation. Both Alfredo Aceves (Saturday) and Tim Wakefield (Sunday) have now entered life on starters’ routines. But, for now, with left-hander Felix Doubront sidelined by a mild groin injury, there are no further fallback options on the 40-man roster.
Brandon Duckworth (4-2, 3.27), Andrew Miller (1-2, 2.80) and Kyle Weiland (3-4, 3.83) have had varying degrees of success in Pawtucket, yet all have limitations. Duckworth’s big league track record (23-34, 5.28) is that of a pitcher who is most likely a spot starter; Miller has held opponents to a .157 average, but he has 28 walks in 35 1/3 innings this year; Weiland has just eight career starts above Double-A, and is still developing despite promising stuff.
That explains why the Sox made the move to add more depth on Thursday, agreeing to terms (pending a physical) with veteran Kevin Millwood on a minor league contract. Millwood would make a prorated $500,000 base salary if he is added to the major league roster, with performance bonuses that would increase the value of the contract.
It remains to be seen whether Millwood has anything left. He opted out of a minor league contract with the Yankees when New York did not call him up by his opt-out date at the beginning of May. His fastball has been in steady decline, and last year, he led the AL in losses.
The 36-year-old will head to Fort Myers before joining Pawtucket. For more on him, click here.
In: Scott Atchison
In: Dan Wheeler
In, then out: Michael Bowden
When Lackey went down, Atchison was called up for the second time this year. He has a 1.25 ERA in Pawtucket, with 23 strikeouts and one walk in 21 2/3 innings, living up to his billing as a strike-thrower. In the majors, he’s appeared in two games, allowing four runs in 5 1/3 innings.
When Matsuzaka landed on the DL, the Sox summoned right-hander Michael Bowden. The 24-year-old has a 1.59 ERA, 28 strikeouts and four walks in 22 2/3 innings for the PawSox.
However, he didn’t appear in a big league game with the Red Sox, and he will be sent back down to Triple-A today in order to clear a roster spot for Dan Wheeler. Wheeler, who signed a one-year, $3 million deal this offseason, allowed one run in 4 2/3 innings in a three-game rehab assignment with Pawtucket. He will be attempting to show that his disastrous early-season performance in the majors (11.32 ERA, .375 batting average against in 11 games) was an aberration.
In: Franklin Morales
Out: Hideki Okajma
Solidifying his place: Rich Hill
The Red Sox announced that they acquired left-hander Franklin Morales from the Rockies in exchange for cash or a player to be named. Morales, 25, has tremendous stuff — a mid-90s fastball, curveball and changeup — that once had him rated as high as the No. 8 prospect in the minors for the Rockies. However, his command (5.3 walks per nine innings) prevented him from reaching his ceiling with Colorado, for whom he was 7-11 with a 4.83 ERA in parts of five seasons.
“He’s been a little bit erratic with his strike-throwing, but there still is plenty of upside there,” general manager Theo Epstein said. “We feel, at a very reasonable acquisition cost, we get somebody who, if things go right, can be a real effective weapon for us from the left side.”
In order to clear a roster spot for Morales, the Sox designated Hideki Okajima for assignment. Okajima has had a limited role with the Sox in recent weeks, especially since Rich Hill was added to the roster on May 5. Okajima had not appeared in a game in the last 10 days before the decision to designate him was made.
Instead, Hill (four scoreless appearances, six strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings) has emerged as the left-handed option of choice. That being the case, the Sox felt they could add a pitcher like Morales, who represents a bit of a gamble but whose stuff makes him a potentially higher ceiling pitcher than Okajima. (For more on Morales, click here.)
The Sox will see if there is a trade that can be struck involving Okajima, a 2007 All-Star. If not, the team will hope to send him back to Pawtucket. The outcome is disappointing for the 35-year-old left-hander, but despite his uncertain future, Okajima insisted that he did not make a mistake in re-signing with the Sox this winter.
“Having re-signed with Boston during the offseason, it is disappointing that this is happening but signing here was not a mistake,” said Okajima. “I am very grateful to the opportunity the Red Sox have given me over five years.”
In: Drew Sutton
Out: Jose Iglesias
Getting closer: Marco Scutaro
Jose Iglesias became a call-up out of necessity when Marco Scutaro landed on the disabled list and the best option for the big leagues — Yamaico Navarro — was likewise sidelined with an oblique injury. Iglesias was on the 40-man roster, so the Sox could call him up without having to designate another player and expose him to the waivers process.
Still, the Sox are more concerned with the bigger picture with Iglesias than with filling an immediate bench need. And so, the shortstop reportedly was seen clearing out his locker after Thursday’s game so that he can go back to Pawtucket and get regular at-bats to continue his development. In his week and a half in the majors, Iglesias had hit just four times, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. At a stage of his career when repetition is vital to allowing him to improve, he will go back to be the everyday shortstop for the PawSox.
In his stead, the Sox will reportedly add Drew Sutton, who is hitting .304 with a .385 OBP, .906 OPS and five homers in 36 games for Pawtucket. The 27-year-old impressed club officials in spring training with both his offense (he hit .317 with a .932 OPS) and versatility (he proved capable of playing all four infield positions) in spring training.
However, in order to add Sutton to the major league roster, the Sox will have to make a corresponding move to clear a spot on the 40-man roster – the very thing that the team had been hoping to avoid (or at least delay) by calling up Iglesias in the first place.
Meanwhile, Scutaro is now fielding ground balls. The infielder is feeling little remnants of his oblique injury, though he has yet to return to swinging as the Sox proceed cautiously for fear of re-aggravating his oblique injury.