In some ways, it is less relevant to know who the Red Sox might get than it is to know that they can get in the mix on just about any available player.
A pair of pitchers underscored that point on Tuesday. Though the Sox suffered a startling 9-7 loss (recap), they were reminded of the depth of assets that they have in their young pitchers.
Clay Buchholz’ performance was hardly dazzling, but the solid results – 5.2 innings in which he worked around nine hits (more on that in a bit) to allow just two runs while striking out five strikeouts and walking two – gave some hint of his growing maturity. He was positioned for a win until the bullpen blew the game.
Though he labored through the first three innings, Buchholz managed to assert damage control – something that he described the day before his start as a key to ensure he did not repeat last year’s struggles. He navigated out of trouble, remaining in control of the game and then finding using a low-90s fastball and swing-and-miss curve and change to take charge following the third inning.
“It’s a 180-degree turn in the way I feel (from 2008),” Buchholz said afterwards. “With those two runs in the second inning that I gave up and just being able to bounce back and not get any more damage out of it, that’s a whole lot different than I was last year.”
That progress, combined with still-overpowering stuff, is part of the reason why teams are convinced that Buchholz has a likely future as a top-of-the-rotation starter for years to come. And it is for that reason that every team offering a major mid-year shot in the arm to the Sox has asked for Buchholz in return.
Meanwhile, while Sox relievers faltered in allowing seven runs and 12 hits in 6.1 innings, Daniel Bard did not join that brigade. To the contrary, it appeared for a time that he had recorded the most important outs of the game.
Manager Terry Francona summoned him in the eighth with one on, one out, and the Sox suddenly clinging to a 6-4 lead. The situation suggested Francona’s ever-growing faith in the rookie.
Bard allowed a single on a 99 mph fastball to the first batter he faced, Orlando Cabrera. But then, Bard threw three straight death-to-righties sliders to Nomar Garciaparra, the last of which was bounced to short for an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
Both Buchholz and Bard are viewed as arms around which a franchise can build. Several reports on Tuesday indicated that the Sox might be willing to part with Buchholz in the right package (presumably, for either Roy Halladay or Adrian Gonzalez) while Bard has been declared off limits. But the two of them offer a reminder of how well-stocked the Sox are with prospects.
Bard and Buchholz are at the big-league surface; just below them, Junichi Tazawa made an outstanding Triple-A debut (6 innings, 3 hits, 2 runs, 1 earned) on Tuesday, Michael Bowden is still well regarded as a future major-league starter, Casey Kelly’s first year as a pro pitcher was spectacular… The list goes on.
In 2003, the Sox wanted to acquire Javier Vazquez from the Expos at the trade deadline. At the time, it was suggested that the team could offer every player in its farm system without being able to convince Montreal that it had enough worthwhile parts to justify a deal.
Obviously, that is no longer the case. The Sox know that they have the prospects available to acquire any piece that is available on the trade market between now and Friday. The only issue is the whether the team will choose to pay the asking price, as opposed to whether the team has the means to do so.
“We like the mixture and we like having our young guys come through, so we’re trying to balance that,” manager Terry Francona said on Monday. “We’re in a unique position here and I actually love it. We seem to be a player in a lot of things because of who we are, but at the same time we love what we’re doing with our younger players.”
On Tuesday, a pair of those young players reinforced their standing, even if the Sox endured a devastating defeat. Here are a few other lessons from Tuesday:
THE RED SOX ARE FUMING ABOUT DAISUKE MATSUZAKA’S AIRING OF GRIEVANCES
None of the complaints that appeared in Daisuke Matsuzaka’s interview with a Japanese reporter were unknown to the Red Sox. The team had communicated on several occasions with the pitcher about his concerns related to his strength, conditioning and shoulder programs.
The pitcher had told team officials in the past of his belief that Japanese pitchers must follow a different course of action in order to remain healthy and effective, pursuing an aggressive between-starts throwing program to build shoulder strength. The team says that it was open to letting Matsuzaka do so up to the point where strength tests revealed decreased shoulder strength that rendered the pitcher vulnerable to injuries.
“We have been very up front with him that as long as his shoulder can handle the amount of throwing that he wants to do, he is more than welcome to do that. But not when his shoulder cannot handle that,” said Sox manager Terry Francona. “In the past, Dice has somewhat been his own coach and we understand that. There’s been some cultural differences.
“We’ve actually tried to explain to him also that for [$103.1 million dollars – the Sox’ combined investment in the pitcher, as represented by a $51.111 million posting fee and a six-year, $52 million contract], if he were to go out there and do it his own way with no coach and then had a difficult time and then [Sox owner John Henry] came down and said to me or John Farrell, ‘What’s going on,’ and we said, ‘I don’t know – we just let Dice do it his own way,’ that wouldn’t be a very good answer.”
The Sox respect the fact that Matsuzaka – currently in Fort Myers while on the disabled list – has his own opinion. Indeed, they had encouraged his candor in private conversations so that they could address his concerns in hopes of bringing the pitcher in line, philosophically, with their training methods.
But when Matsuzaka turned those private conversations into a public dialogue by alerting a Japanese reporter to them, the team’s sympathy disappeared.
“I think there were some things said out of frustration that was poor judgment on his part,” said Francona. “I’ve actually thought we’ve made huge strides in communicating through some of his frustrations and then maybe some of ours. So to hear him say that is disappointing. Not disappointing that he has an opinion, because that’s very welcome. Disappointing that we took a meeting that was confidential and he decided to air it publicly.”
JONATHAN PAPELBON COULD HAVE BEEN TOO STRONG
It seems safe to say that Jonathan Papelbon will not often turn a three-run lead in the ninth inning into a blown save. Indeed, he had never before done so in his career.
The oddity of the fact that Papelbon did so on Tuesday was that his stuff was, in the words of manager Francona, “explosive.” His fastball regularly registered 98 and 99 mph on the Fenway Park scoreboard, his top velocity of the season.
Perhaps that explains why Papebon conceded a walk to the first batter he faced, Jack Cust, He got ahead, 1-2, then missed the strike zone with consecutive 99, 98 and 99 mph fastballs. Papelbon described the leadoff walk as the one part of the inning that he truly regretted. He now has a career-high 20 walks this season.
J.D. DREW APPEARS TO HAVE TURNED A CORNER
Amidst a team-wide slump, no one looked worse than J.D. Drew. From July 11-24, the right-fielder endured an 0-for-24 streak, coming up just short of his career-long 25 at-bat hitless streak in 2005. He looked dreadful, and became a source of agitation for those looking for a scapegoat for the team’s offensive woes.
Drew, however, now appears to be changing course. Starting with a base hit against the Orioles on Friday, he now has eight hits in his last 19 at-bats (.421)entered last night 5-for-14. He has begun hitting the ball with some authority to all fields.
Of his five hits over the past two games, he has three doubles – two to left, one to right. He very nearly became the star of Tuesday’s game, crushing a slider from reliever Craig Breslow in the bottom of the tenth that looked like a potential walk-off before dying on the warning track, just in front of the Sox bullpen.
Even so, Drew was 3-for-5, and looks like a different hitter than the one who went two weeks between hits.
“He was much more aggressive,” said Francona. “When he hits the ball to left field, he looks like a better hitter. And then all of a sudden he stays a little bit quiet at the plate and he turns on the ball. I think we all thought he had a chance for a home run. Maybe we’re hoping but it looked like he had enough.”
Drew’s performance will forever be judged against the size of his five-year, $70 million contract. And he will almost surely be found wanting against such a standard.
That said, it is possible to get carried away with the criticism of the right-fielder. The average American League right-fielder entered yesterday with a .352 OBP and .804 OPS. Drew, even after having endured one of the worst offensive stretches of his career, now has marks of .361 and .810. Recent indications would suggest that he will continue to improve on those numbers.
All of that – particularly when taking into account for his defensive contributions – Drew is, at his worst, a slightly above-average player this year. And there is at least a chance that he will be something more than that for stretches over the rest of the year.
JUNICHI TAZAWA COULD HELP THE SOX TO SWING A DEAL – EVEN IF HE GOES NOWHERE
Yahoo! Sports was the first to suggest that the Sox might be willing to include Buchholz and Bowden, or Buchholz and Masterson, as part of a multi-player package for Roy Halladay of the Blue Jays. At first blush, the news seemed somewhat surprising.
The Sox, after all, refused to consider including Buchholz in a deal for Johan Santana following the 2007 season. That made the idea of including both Buchholz and another one of the team’s top starters somewhat far-fetched.
But Tazawa’s dazzlingly efficient debut – he needed just 70 pitches to log his six innings – might reveal some of the basis for that rumored flexibility. Tazawa is likely to make his major-league debut this year, perhaps out of the bullpen in September.
Though the pitcher is in his first year as a professional, his four-pitch mix suggests that he may not be too far behind either Bowden or Buchholz. As such, he might make it more palatable for the Sox to consider parting with one or both in the right deadline deal.