So, when next week rolls around, what will the Red Sox' rotation look like?
Sunday allowed for more questions than answers.
After the Red Sox' 6-3 loss to the Rangers at Fenway Park, the starter-in-waiting, John Smoltz, said he:
A: Wouldn't prefer to make his first outing against his old team, the Braves, when they come to town in two weeks;
B: Wouldn't be averse to pitching out of the bullpen, although it hasn't been broached by the Red Sox; and
C: Has been approached by the Sox regarding potentially skipping starts on occasion.
Yet through all that information, clarity is still hard to find when it comes to deciphering what exactly will transpire in one week, when Smoltz' rehab stint comes to an end.
Brad Penny went about his business, repeating his understanding of the business of baseball and the trade rumors that will linger as the June 16 date in which he doesn't have to give his consent for a deal approaches.
Josh Beckett got ready for his Tuesday start against the Yankees, while Jon Lester suggested that, if looking at his entire four-pitch repertoire, Saturday night's performance might have showcased his best stuff as a big leaguer. And Tim Wakefield kept on being Tim Wakefield, dominating crossword puzzles and turning in good '09 outings more times than not.
And then there was Daisuke Matsuzaka.
While an argument could be made that each of Matsuzaka's starts since his return from the 15-day disabled list had shown improvement, the same couldn't be said for his latest appearance. If nothing else, however, it was different.
Matsuzaka displayed what was undoubtedly his best fastball of the season, but it didn't quite translate like the Red Sox had hoped. He also adhered to the team's wishes of pounding the strike zone a bit more -- finishing without a walk for the firsst time since May 27, 2008 -- but that also didn't pay off like many had planned.
With Matsuzaka clearly having a difficult time grasping the merits of pitching to contact in order to go deeper into games, Sunday did little to sell him on such a strategy.
"To describe my pitching in one world today would be to say that it was very plain," he said through translator Masa Hoshino.
"That's why I called my pitching plain, but there is no better way to describe how it was today," Matsuzaka added. "Facing the hitters I made some fundamental mistakes I wasn't able to vary my approach, and I think that led to a lot of wasted pitches."
Fundamental mistakes? Wasted pitches?
"I think my physical condition itself isn't that bad, but there are things that I am working on right now that I would normally take care of in the preseason or in the offseason," he added. "So in that sense it might take a little bit more time. But what I'm always trying to do is to get back to that point where I can put together a good game."
But with a sixth starter looming on the horizon, every bump in the road and suggestion that there is work to be done raises red flags as to who might be getting some time off. And even though Matsuzaka has already had his hiatus (and most likely won't get another one any time soon) Sunday's performance -- along with the talk of more adjustments -- only added to the starting rotation debate.
No, the future didn't get any clearer for the Sox' starters Sunday. But there were a few things we did learn on this day...
SMOLTZ WANTS TO DO WHATEVER IT TAKES
After giving up just one run over six innings, Saturday night in Pawtucket, Smoltz has now given up just three earned runs in 17 1/3 innings in four rehab starts. In short, he's done his part.
Now he's ready to do it as a major leaguer.
Skip a start? He understands.
"I want to be ready every five days. We talked about it, there may be a time where I have to miss a start," Smoltz said. "Those scenarios play out so many different ways it does me no good trying to figure them out. I just want to be ready."
Live the life of reliever once again? He hasn't been asked to go down that road, but the 42-year-old said he wouldn't push back on such an idea.
"I'm in a position to be readily available to them, in whatever capacity or role that means," he explained. "I've done (relieving) my whole career and I could do it again. But it hasn't been brought up to me."
There is one thing, however, he has requested of the Red Sox -- not to have that first start come when the Braves come to town from June 19-21. Pitching in Atlanta a week after that is one thing, with at least one outing expected to be under his belt, but opening his '09 season with the pomp and circumstance of an Atlanta reunion wouldn't be Smoltz' preference.
"There is so much history and emotion that goes into it, but it's a game and I want to pitch the game. My only wish is that it wouldn't be my first game," he said. "Pitching is pitching and when I get out there it will be pitching. But there will also be too much leading into it and too much after it. It will not be normal.
"You try and treat it like a normal game, but this one would not be a normal game. No matter how much I would want to sleep at night there would be anxious moments. I would deal with it the best way I can, but I know how much adrenaline and emotion I would put in that game."
IT WAS BETTER THAN BAD
Guess who had the best offensive weekend in a Red Sox uniform?
None other than David Ortiz, that's who.
"I'm feeling good," the Red Sox DH as he ventured off toward his day with the eye doctor. "I'm just trying to stay positive and make things happen. It's not the same when you make happen and let things happen."
In the three games against the Rangers, Ortiz hit a team-high .364, going 4 for 11 with a home run and a pair of RBI. Among those American Leaguers who served as designated hitters throughout the entire weekend, the four hits was also tops.
Ortiz has now hit safely in six straight games, going 7 for 25 (.280).
So which of the swings lent itself to the most optimism? Saturday night's home run? Evidently, the long ball wasn't the most memorable. According to the DH the hit that stood out the most was actually his single, Sunday, which somehow found a path toward the outfield in between the infield shift of Texas shortstop Omar Vizquel and second baseman Ian Kinsler.
In Ortiz' eyes, it was the kind of reprieve that simply hasn't been easily found throughout his struggles.
"You're going to be out if you strikeout," he explained, "but when you hit the ball well and you're out too, that's not good."
Ortiz wasn't exactly screaming from the mountain tops in regards to his three-game showing. There were still bumps in the road, such as four weekend strikeouts, and an ill-timed dash toward second in the sixth inning that went in the books as Ortiz' second caught stealing in as many tries this season.
When Texas starter Vincente Padilla stepped off the mound and gunned down Ortiz, who had taken off for second before the pitcher's delivery, it punctuated a forgettable day on the basepaths for the Sox' sluggers.
In the first inning, Kevin Youkilis was picked off second base by Padilla, ending the frame. And then in the second, Bay was gunned down by Texas catcher Taylor Teagarden trying to steal his sixth base of the season.
Bay was not only 5 for 5 on stolen base attempts coming into Sunday, but hadn't been thrown out since April 22, 2007. Other than his former Pittsburgh teammate, Nate McLouth, no major leaguer with at least 50 attempts since '05 had a better stolen base percentage than Bay, having been gunned down just five of his 52 tries.
BENCH PUT TO THE TEST
After coming off a 10-game road trip in which he hit a team-leading .385 with a pair of walks, Jacoby Ellsbury's fortunes at Fenway the past three days weren't so promising. The Sox' speedster went just 1 for 11 with one free pass.
And now he's adding injury to insult, having to bust out his knowledge of the 'acromioclavicular joint' thanks to a couple of dives in the Fenway dirt on Sunday.
The actual moment that led to Ellsbury leaving the game following the fifth inning wasn't his spectacular diving catch of a Kinsler blast to center field in the fourth inning. It was instead a head-first slide on his jaunt into second on a two-base, bases-loaded error in which Vizquel for some reason forgot to put the tag down as the Sox' baserunner approached.
It was then aggravated when Ellsbury snagged Kinsler's ball on the dead run, crashing to the center field dirt. And when a fifth-inning swing on a ground out to first base tweaked it further, the team deemed it time to look forward to the Yankees series.
"I banged it up a little on the slide, and then I tried to fight through it," he said. "When I made the catch, I landed on my right shoulder and made it even worse than that. It's really not feeling too good right now, but we have the off day to get it looked at."
One thing Ellsbury's absence did allow for was the realization that the Red Sox' bench might be taking shape with the addition of Mark Kotsay, who got the start in right field Sunday and produced his first home run of the season.
Kotsay and Rocco Baldelli had gotten together to make t-shirts reading "Rescue Squad" on them for all the bench players and members of the bullpen (which were proudly worn throughout the clubhouse the entire weekend). Sunday they lived up to their name.
Perhaps the signature moment in realizing the group's value came in a game of 'Rock, Paper, Scissors' between Kotsay and Baldelli. After both players told Red Sox manager Terry Francona that neither preferred center or right when subbing in for Ellsbury, the duo decided to let the game determine their fate.
Baldelli proved the victor, winning twice, and tying once when both put down "scissors" on the second throw. In the end it didn't matter, however, as bench coach Brad Mills ultimately came over to deliver the assignments.
"Obviously, both of us don't really care where we play," Kotsay explained. "And he actually won the right to play right, but the manager selected and made the final decision. I went paper and then rock and he beat me. He must have been in my head or something."
"I think we're very complementary of each other," said Baldelli of the bench players' multiple talents. "A lot of us can go out there and play multiple positions. Even (Nick Green) can get out there in the outfield."
Upon over-hearing his name, Green filled in Baldelli on the origin of his outfield experience -- coming on for then-Atlanta teammate J.D. Drew in 2004, marking the first of three career appearances in the outfield for the utility man.
"That's why," Green chimed in, "I still have this J.D. Drew model glove."
SPEAKING OF GREEN...
Throughout the weekend, talk of Julio Lugo's play has dominated the shortstop conversation. (One scout got him going a less-than-spectacular 4.65 seconds down to first base, suggesting his knee is still a hindrance.)
And if wasn't Lugo, the buzz centered around Jed Lowrie, who took live batting practice for the first time, this weekend, and said on WEEI Sunday morning that if all continues to keep going well his expectation is that he will be back with the Red Sox in "two or three weeks."
There were also those trade rumors circulating involving everybody from Texas' Vizquel (the Rangers weren't interested, according to the Boston Herald), Pittsburgh's Jack Wilson and Oakland's Orlando Cabrera
But while all of the chaos swirled around what the Red Sox were planning on doing at shortstop, Green offered a reminder that he is, if nothing else, holding down the fort admirably.
Green's batting average has dipped to .271, going 0 for 7 in the series, and he hasn't had a multiple-hit game since the Sox last homestand, against the Mets. Yet the Red Sox have shown they can live with offensive mediocrity in exchange for defensive adeptness, which Green has shown more and more as the season progresses.
Since May 23 Green has committed just one error, while making the plays a starting major league shortstop is expected to make more times than not. Sunday he even displayed the aspect of his game that separates him from most shortstops -- his throwing arm.
With the Red Sox trailing by two runs in the sixth inning and Matsuzaka having just left the mound for reliever Justin Masterson with Vizquel at first and two outs, Kinsler rocketed a ball into the left-field corner.
Sox left fielder Jason Bay gathered in the ball, relayed it to Green, who threw a four-seam laser beam to catcher Jason Varitek, snuffing out Vizquel at home and keeping it a two-run game.
"When I got the ball it looked like he was already halfway down the line," Green said. "I thought we had a chance, but then I looked up he was so far down the line I didn't know. That was about as hard as I could throw a ball. Fortunately I think I got a four-seam grip on it because it didn't move."