Keeping the Faith
Manny Ramirez is on strike. Hot on the heels of reports about his annual trade request, the slugging left fielder refused to play in last night's game versus the Devil Rays. The team was already short one-third of their starting outfield due to the oblique muscle injury to Trot Nixon. But none of that mattered last night, because Manny was promised a day off and he intended to take it, regardless of the circumstances. Never mind that he has a day off today like the rest of the team.
On WEEI's Dennis and Callahan program this morning, CEO Larry Lucchino theorized that Manny may have had a physical or psychological reason to need an extra day of rest. Maybe, but maybe not. And even if so, it stands in stark contrast to starting pitchers Tim Wakefield and Bronson Arroyo, who reportedly volunteered to pitch in relief if needed after Matt Clement left the game with a head injury Tuesday night.
This isn't the first time Manny has refused to play, nor is the recent trade request his first since coming to Boston. If he isn't traded before the Sunday afternoon deadline, he needs to be dealt with appropriately. If I were the manager, I would not only give him the day off he demanded, but I'd add a few more. And I'd fine him 1/162 of his 2005 salary for each of those games. He'd appeal the fine, but so what? Sometimes you need to give a petulant child a time out and take away his toys to teach him the consequences of his actions.
Nothing can undo Manny's tremendous achievements with the Red Sox. Even his lazy baserunning and mental fielding mistakes don't negate the home runs, the RBI, the high level of performance in last year's World Series. But I can honestly say that if he is traded, I won't shed a tear.
WEEI is reporting that Matt Clement has been released from a St. Petersburg, Florida, hospital where he was kept overnight for testing and observation after last night's head injury. According to Red Sox team physician Thomas Gill, a follow-up CT scan done this morning was negative. So while he probably has a hell of a headache and will no doubt be a big squeamish the next time he takes the mound, Clement will return to Boston with his teammates this evening after the game.
As I'm sure our readers know, Matt Clement took a hard line to the head in the third inning of tonight's game against the Devil Rays. He was taken off the field by stretcher. There is no news on his condition as of yet.
The Devil Rays have tied the game with a grand slam, but it doesn't really matter right now.
UPDATE: The Boston Globe has posted a brief report with no new information. On the NESN game broadcast, however, announcers Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy just reported that Clement was "conscious and alert" as he left Tropicana Field by ambulance, to be transported to a hospital just a few blocks away.
UPDATE: NESN's Eric Frede just reported on a statement by Red Sox team physician Thomas Gill. Matt Clement never lost consciousness... is in good spirits... results of a CT scan were negative (i.e. nothing serious found)... Clement will stay in a local hospital overnight as a precaution. This is great news, as it looked as if Clement was seriously injured. Remember, the pitcher doesn't wear a helmet.
He has his peeps down the left field line, adulation from the big spenders in the monster seats, and a standing invitation to hang with the guys who work inside Fenway's manual scoreboard. But apparently it isn't enough to keep Manny Ramirez happy here in Beantown.
In the Aug. 1 issue of Sports Illustrated, Tom Verducci will report that Ramirez has asked to be traded for the third time in the last four seasons. He reportedly told Red Sox officials he is unhappy in Boston, particularly because he feels he has no privacy in his life off the field.
I can only try to imagine how frustrating it must be to be a public figure, recognized everywhere you go and approached by fans who don't understand that you need private time just like they do. That frustration must be magnified for someone like Manny who is, by many accounts, a bit shy. That being the case, you'd think he would refrain from voluntarily ceding what little privacy is within his control.
For what it's worth, I can't see Manny being traded, at least not this year. What's left of his contract is enormous and elicited no takers after the 2003 season when he was placed on irrevocable waivers. If no one was willing to take him when they didn't have to give up anything in return, why would they take him now that they do? Even if there were a potential suitor, it's a safe bet that whatever they were offering wouldn't be enough for Theo. So my guess is that, like it or not, Manny stays put.
Just a couple days after the Red Sox' chances in the A.J. Burnett sweepstakes were almost universally dismissed, the trade talks are apparently back on with Florida. The catch is that the deal, which would bring Burnett to Boston for Bronson Arroyo, is contingent on completion of a trade with Minnesota that would reportedly bring pitching (Joe Mays and J.C. Romero) in exchange for infielders (Bill Mueller and Kevin Millar). There appear to be two sticking points to this scenario: Boston's lukewarm opinion of the Marlins' third baseman Mike Lowell, who is being packaged with Burnett, and the Marlins' preference for starter Kyle Lohse, whom the Twins are more eager to move than Mays.
Not that I don't acknowledge the team's current desperate need for pitching, but my heart is heavy over the prospect of losing Mueller. He is the consummate hard player, and his understandable reluctance to play second base notwithstanding, he is a real team player. Millar is a horse of another color; by no means do I dislike him, but if we can swap him for someone of greater value, then it would be foolish not to. As for the Mays vs. Lohse question, why would the Sox be reluctant to take Lohse if they're just going to flip him to Florida anyway? And what would Terry Francona do with Lowell, who by all accounts is on the down side of his career and not as valuable as Mueller, especially because we now have Tony Graffanino who can play third base?
Theo's shock and awe has begun. Just reported this afternoon:
Hyzdu will probably end up in Pawtucket to replace Ambres. He is unlikely to be on the major league roster any time soon, as we already have a fourth outfielder in Adam Stern, a Rule 5 pick who will be lost if we send him down to the minors. And will soon have Gabe Kapler to work in. If Kapler stays in AAA for now, Hyzdu may simply be here temporarily as part of another trade not yet consummated.
I would like to think that there is also a trade in the works for Embree, similar to what they did with Jay Payton, and that the designation for assignment is meant to more quickly open up a roster spot. Meanwhile, John Halama is still here...
The acquisition of Graffanino suggests that Mark Bellhorn's hand injury might be more serious than anyone is letting on, or that he too is soon to be dealt.
In other news, yesterday's New York Daily News report notwithstanding, the Red Sox are evidently not getting A.J. Burnett from Florida. As ProJo's Sean McAdam correctly predicted yesterday on WEEI's Big Show, the Red Sox weren't willing to give up what the Marlins wanted, so it appears Baltimore will get Burnett after all.
More to come in the next week and a half, you can be sure of that.
If I wasn't panicking two months ago when we were in fourth place and five games back, I'm certainly not panicking now that we're just a half game out. I am merely getting the button ready, just in case.
The Red Sox are a
lackluster mediocre anemic pathetic 5-10 so far in July. That's a winning percentage of .333, folks. The team's worst month in 2004 was June, which came in at .440; to beat that, they need to win seven of their remaining 12 games this month.
To put it another way, if our boys were playing even .500 ball since the All-Star break, they'd be a game and a half up on New York and two ahead of Baltimore right now.
It isn't that the Yankees and Orioles are playing all that well. The Red Sox simply aren't getting it done in the last three weeks. Only the relative weakness of the AL East is saving them from an embarrassing showing in the standings. The (barely) first-place Yankees are in fifth place among division leaders, and sixth place overall in MLB. The second-place Sox are tied for seventh overall and should be much higher. None of it bodes well for the winner of our divisionwhoever that ends up beingto go very deep into October.
Our bullpen continues to struggle even with the injection of Curt Schilling, the batters are stranding far too many baserunners in scoring position (bases loaded with nobody out against Mariano Rivera last weekend, and they can't score?!), and the team just isn't winning the low-scoring games. They outscored the Yankees 30-21 last weekend but still lost three of four; it doesn't help to score 17 runs in a game if you score only a combined seven in the other three games. And being held to a single run by the Devil Rays is simply unacceptable.
At this stage of the game, with a mere 12 days until the trade deadline, GM Theo Epstein knows full well what his team needs. It is no longer possible to think that so-and-so is just slumping and will pull it out; whatever is broken has to be fixed, and if Alan Embree and John Halama settle down or Manny Ramirez starts hitting lefties or Mark Bellhorn reduces his strikeout numbers, it will be a bonus.
P.S. Don't be blaming the team's woes on Bronson Arroyo's album (it was recorded last January, well before he had to throw pitch number one for the season) or Wade "Winless" Miller (it isn't his fault his teammates scored only one run last night) or even Dale Sveum (damned if he sends the runners, damned if he doesn't). Those are the easy targets, but I have a feeling the real problems will only be solved with a little roster shake-up the likes of which we saw last year when home-grown Nomar Garciaparra was dealt. I dare not venture to guess what form such a move would take this year, but we need to be prepared for it if/when it comes.
When you want to observe something, you usually get up close to it. You can spot the details, see things you might otherwise have missed. But there are times when you need to step back. From my loge box seat at Fenway Park during last night's game against the Yankees, I saw some things that it seems manager Terry Francona didn't.
Besides the so-so starting pitching by both teams and the plethora of doubles and home runs, what I saw was poor use of the Red Sox bullpen. When starter Bronson Arroyo left the game in the top of the sixth inning, the score was tied. Mike Myers finished the inning on three pitches and new acquisition Chad Bradford started the seventh. After getting one out and giving up one walk and for reasons unknown to me, Bradford was replaced by Alan Embree, who finished the inning. The Sox regained the lead in the bottom of the inning with a solo homer off Tanyan Sturtze.
At this point, you were probably saying, Let's bring in Mike Timlin to pitch the eighth. Instead, Francona sent Embree out to start the inning against Jorge Posada. Today on WEEI's Dale and Holley Show, Dale Arnold pointed out that Embree has a history of success pitching to Posada. Unfortunately, this time, Posada got the base hit.
Again for reasons unknown by me, Francona chose that moment to bring in Timlin, even though he has a horrible habit this season of allowing inherited runners to score. He comes in, gives up a hit or two, and then finishes the inning. That's not a problem if he comes in at the beginning of the inning or with no one on base. But those one or two hits will get a baserunner home most of the time, which is what happened last night. Timlin's low ERA remains intact in spite of having given up the tying run.
I'm not blaming Timlin for the loss because all else being equal, the Sox would have lost even if that tying run hadn't scored. Enter Curt Schilling in the ninth to thunderous applause and strains of Aerosmith's "Back in the Saddle" on the public address system. On mostly off-speed pitches, he allowed two runs on two hits, and that was the ball game. Our old friend Mariano Rivera was solid in the bottom of the inning, and there were no walk-off heroics.
My questions are simple:
It is not my practice to second-guess every managerial move that doesn't work out, but last night reminded me a bit of the fateful night in October 2003 when Grady Little sent He Who Shall Not Be Named out to start the eighth inning even though all the numbers pointed toward a disastrous result.
Terry, step back for a moment and see what we see. I'm not saying you'll find all the answers, but you just might get the obvious ones.
Some people second guess, but that's not me. I first guess. When Timlin had Womack at third with one out, the best plan to but into play would have been to walk the hot-hitting, but snail-slow Sierra and try for a double play.
Of course, what happens is, Sierra doubles and the next guy up, Jeter hits a would-be tailor-made double play.
I agree with you all the way though, Francona needs to start thinking.
As we await the unofficial second half of the season (the official second half began on July 5 when the Sox played the 82nd game of the season) it is worth a look back at what this team has done so far. If you know the Triumphant Red Sox Fan, you know that I love numbers. In that spirit, I have looked at a plethora of pre-All-Star stats (thanks to ESPN.com) and have heard the story they tell. It is, as they say, a mixed bag.
What the numbers are: The Red Sox sit in first place in the American League east division, 11 games over .500. They are much better at home (24-14) than on the road (25-24). Their batting average and on-base percentage are about the same road and home. They hit more homers on the road (1.306 per game) than at home (0.947 per game), but the pitching staff ERA is better at home (4.45 compared to 5.17).
The team has had more success against AL central teams (.700) than AL east teams (.447). They also seem to have shaken their interleague woes of years past, taking two-thirds of those contests in 2005.
What it all means: The home run splits are surprising, but those numbers are immaterial because the team wins much more at home. With the most second-half home games of any team in the league, that bodes very well for greater success down the road.
What the numbers are: In most respects, this is a pretty good hitting bunch. Team batting average is a league-leading .282, well above the league average .269. They pack some punch, with a team slugging average (total bases divided by at bats) of .451, third best in the AL. As a team they hit 1.15 homers per game, sixth in the league and a full 0.10 more than the league average.
But it isn't just power that makes the offense successful; they're the league's second best team for on-base percentage at .357, a mere .001 off the lead. Once they get on base, they don't run a lot (they're 13th of 14 teams in stolen bases), but they get it right when they do, stealing successfully in a league-leading 92% of attempts.
They also do a good job of making opposing pitchers work, taking 3.84 pitches per plate appearance, second best in the AL and just .02 off the lead. As a group, they strike out more than 12 of 13 opponents, but they also walk more than almost any other team, so their strikeouts-to-walks ratio is second best in the league.
The weakness in the offense is in pinch hitting ability. While American League pinch hitters average .216, the Sox manage only .192, ninth in the league. This wouldn't be as big a problem if they weren't in the top half in pinch hit at-bats.
What it all means: These guys can hit for average and power. They work the pitch counts and walk a lot, which saves them from getting too badly burned by the strikeouts. They're smart enough to know not to try stealing a base unless they're sure they can pull it off. But Terry Francona needs to lay off the pinch hitters for no good reason and let the guys who are getting it done as starters finish the games whenever possible.
What the numbers are: The pitching staff's earned run average of 4.84 is third highest in the league. Opposing batters are hitting .274 against our staff as a whole, an average better than only four other AL teams. Sox arms allow 1.4 walks-plus-hits per inning pitched, better than only three other staffs.
They're a bit better with throwing strikeouts. As a team, the Red Sox strike out 2.12 batters for every one they walk, which is just sixth best in the league. The strikeouts per nine innings number is similarly mediocre, 6.08 which is good for only seventh in the AL.
The rest of the numbers are, well, distressing. Opponents are slugging at an average of .436 and reaching base at a rate of .336, putting Sox pitching at fourth worst in the league. The staff has hit 51 opposing batters, more than any other AL team. They throw 3.75 pitches per plate appearance, the seventh worst rate. Starters have only two complete games to the league average of 4.1.
A solitary bright spot: The Red Sox have shutout their opponents seven times, compared to a league average of 4.4.
What it all means: Pitching was this team's Achilles heel in the first half. The injuries to Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke were a big part of the problem, the starting rotation hasn't been as dominant as everyone thought they would be, and the bullpen is simply not reliable. Our guys throw a lot of pitches, hit a lot of batters, and give up lots of hits and walks. That means simply that if the offense isn't cooking, the team loses. If they don't pull it together for the last 2 1/2 months, I don't expect them to make it to, never mind through, the postseason.
What the numbers are: In terms of fielding percentage, the Red Sox stand at .983, on par with the American League as a whole and seventh among AL teams. Adding catching statistics to the mix, Jason Varitek and Doug Mirabelli have combined for six passed balls this season, though Tek is much less likely than Mirabelli to commit the blunder because he doesn't have to catch Tim Wakefield's knuckleball. More importantly, they throw out only 22% of runners attempting to steal, near the bottom of the barrel.
What it all means: Aside from the outfield, this team can't rely on the defense. The catching numbers are surprising because that position is considered one of the Sox strengths, but that perception comes more from intangibles that numbers can't capture.
What the numbers are: Since we were just talking about fielding, let's stick with that for now. This team's best fielding percentages among the everyday players belong to Bill Mueller (.981), who is second among qualified AL third basemen; Trot Nixon (.993), second among right fielders; and Johnny Damon (.996), third among center fielders and leading the Sox in defense this season. Manny Ramirez is in the middle of the pack of left fielders at .993, but that's still third best among his starting teammates, and as of about a month ago he led the league in outfield assists. Not a bad outfield we have, plus Billy solid at the corner.
Mark Bellhorn (.985) and Kevin Millar (.991) are slightly above average at their respective positions, and fifth and seventh respectively among his nine qualified peers.
The fielding stats of the Varitek and Edgar Renteria, on the other hand, rank barely above the cellar relative to regular at their positions. The pitchers are nothing to write home about either, but they don't have to do much fielding.
As for pitching, the numbers back up the consensus that Matt Clement has been the ace of the staff so far. His ERA is 12th of 54 qualified pitchers in the league, and he's the only Sox starter under 4.00. He's fifth in the league in strikeouts. Walks are high, but it occurs to me when he gets into a bind due to walks that he keeps his cool and works his way out of it. I can't help but contrast him in that regard to Derek Lowe, for whom a walk meant coming completely unglued.
Bronson Arroyo and Wakefield are both worse than the team ERA, but that isn't saying much. Wells and Wade Miller show signs of brilliance, but not consistently. The best ERA on the staff is reliever Mike Timlin at 1.69, but he has allowed slightly more than 1 hit per inning pitched, which can be disastrous when he inherits baserunners. Ditto with Mike Myers, who despite an ERA of 2.65, gives up .88 hits per inning. The rest of the relievers have ERAs over 6.00.
Oddly enough, Schilling, in limited duty so far, leads the team in strikeouts walk at 6.67, with Wells next at 4.45. Timlin's ratio of 2.8 leads the bullpen, and it goes downhill from there.
Looking at offense, it's worth noting that seven Red Sox starters are batting above the league average: Damon, David Ortiz, and Varitek (all over .300), plus Trot, Mueller, Manny, and the oft-maligned Renteria. Papi, Manny, and Tek are all slugging over .500, with Trot and Johnny also over the team average.
Breaking it down by position, most of our starters measure up well against their peers in at least one major hitting category. Damon is the offensive star so far, leading all qualified AL center fielders in batting average and on-base percentage. He's third in slugging percentage, and comes in a respectable fifth in runs batted in. Varitek is best among six qualified catchers in slugging, second in average and OBP, and third in RBI. Nixon is the most consistent of the starters, coming in fourth among right fielders in average, slugging, and OBP, and fifth in RBI. Manny has been a bit of an enigma thus far, being only ninth of 11 right fielders in BA, but fourth in OBP, second in slugging, and the league's RBI leader. Mueller is also more good than bad, coming in second among ten qualified third basemen in OBP and fourth in average, which somewhat mitigates his low ranking in slugging (eighth) and RBI (ninth).
The remaining starters have had their offensive woes. The best of the rest is probably Kevin Millar, whose average is seventh among 13 qualified first basemen. He's also seventh in OBP, but his slugging percentage is dead last and he's tied for 15th (among all first basemen) in RBI. Renteria has been a disappointment in the first half; while his batting average hovers close to Manny's, that's good for only fifth among seven qualified shortstops. He's also fifth in OBP, fourth in slugging, and eighth among all shortstops in RBI. That leaves Bellhorn, who has never been nor been expected to be an offensive force. While he has the fourth best OBP of ten qualified second basemen, he comes in only ninth in slugging, dead last in average, and is tied for 11th among all second-baggers in RBI.
Ortiz is, of course, in a class by himself. His .314 average is second among only three qualified designated hitters (evidently most teams platoon at DH, but then again they don't have Big Papi) and he's tops in RBI. Most importantly, there is no DH more clutch than Ortiz has been over the last two seasons, and I believe he can be counted on to continue that through the rest of this season.
What it all means: Offensively, we have two clear tiers and not much in the middle. Fortunately, we have more good than poor hitters, and the good ones are so good that the second division really doesn't have to be. Still, if two or three of the top hitters start slumping at the same time, which can happen and has in the past, it might take a Renteria, Bellhorn, or Millar to come up big in the clutch. I believe any one of them is capable of doing so.
Defensively, this team is average overall. The outfield is certainly the defensive strength and the infield a weakness, though Renteria and Bellhorn have managed to turn some fine double plays. Our catching numbers are deceiving because they don't capture the ability of Tek to call a game or the importance of Mirabelli handling the knuckleball.
Pitching will be the key for the rest of the season, as it was last year and into the playoffs. It can safely be said that this team is in first in spite of their overall pitching. The return of Schilling, in the bullpen at first, should be a turning point in the season. And we'll need Foulke to come back strong and healthy in late August to anchor the pen down the stretch. If Theo Epstein pulls off any big deals before the trading deadline, expect it to be for pitching. The almost-done acquisition of reliever Chad Bradford for Jay Payton sets the tone.
Buckle up, people. We're over the hump and now it's time to pick up steam and bring some winning momentum into another pennant race.
Here for your edification are the Triumphant Red Sox Fan's mid-season thoughts, in no particular order:
The Red Sox go into the All-Star break in first place two games ahead of the Baltimore, two-and-a-half games ahead of New York, and five-and-a-half games ahead of Toronto. I don't expect the Blue Jays to be a big threat, especially now that Roy Halladay has gone down for several weeks with a broken leg. The Orioles, though, may prove more tenacious than I thought they would be. Interestingly, I am still not all that worried about the Yankees in the long run, given lingering questions about Randy Johnson's health and the probability that such problems are more likely to be magnified in the second half. Still, it's turning into a more interesting race than this division has seen in a long time.
Speaking of Halladay, am I a bad person if I am glad that his injury opened up a spot on the All-Star team for our own Matt Clement?
Back to that first place thingthis team hasn't been in first place at the break since 1995, which happens to be the last time they won the division. I want the division. The World Series was greatthat's the ultimate goal and I wouldn't trade it for anything. But now I want the division. I would also prefer that the wild card team be someone other than the Yankees.
According to Sean McAdam of the Providence Journal, speaking on WEEI's Big Show, Gabe Kapler got out of his contract in Japan and will be officially free on Friday. The Red Sox are expected to sign him and then send him on a rehab assignment to address some nagging back issues.
Gabe the Babe will thus return to his former team with the full knowledge and understanding of his role as a utility outfielder, a position the soon-to-be-traded Jay Payton was never happy with. Yet to be determined is what this will mean for Adam Stern, the Rule 5 pick who was just activated from the disabled list. As a Rule 5 player, he can't be demoted or the team loses him to his former club. Do they have another plan for him, or will he merely occupy a roster spot that could be more effectively spent on someone else?
Meanwhile, in other potential roster moves, the trade deadline looms a mere 20 days from now. An unintended consequence of last year's deadline trade of Nomar Garciaparra is that fans are actually expecting a similar bombshell transaction this year too. The subject of many of the current rumors is either Kevin Millar or Johnny Damon, depending on whom, you talk to. Millar, it is said, is on the war path because John Olerud has been encroaching on his first-base turf, while Johnny's impending free agency and famously unreasonable agent supposedly make him the player to unload while we can still get something in return.
Johnny isn't going anywhere, in my opinion. Unlike Nomar a year ago, Johnny is highly productive and, sore shoulder notwithstanding, thus far relatively unhampered by injury. Millar is another story, but probably not as the rumors suggest to the Mets, who already have Doug Mientkiewicz and are unlikely to effect a reunion of the two guys who most unhappily platooned a year ago.
Down on the farm, top pitching prospect Jon Papelbon has been solid in his short time with Pawtucket. His erstwhile AA and now AAA teammate, infielder Dustin Pedroia, has been somewhat less than advertised, though in fairness Pedroia was set back by a wrist injury just after his promotion.
Curt Schilling, meanwhile, was much more solid in his last relief appearance for the PawSox and is expected to re-join the big club on Thursday as an interim relief pitcher.
I've been somewhat amused by the presumption that Schilling's move to the bullpen means he will be closing in Keith Foulke's absence. No one has actually said this, but that hasn't stopped talk radio big mouths (that means hosts as well as callers) from ranting and raving about it.
So are you planning to watch tonight's Home Run Derby and tomorrow's All-Star game? I have put my MLB contest vote, if not my money, on David Ortiz to win the derby. And I'll make my prediction now that Kenny Rogers will be the game's biggest distraction because of his refusal to pull out in the wake of that nasty assault episode.
Why is he even on the roster, anyway? Because his fellow players put him there. And that's disturbing in itself. I'm sure most pro athletes don't relish having a camera recording their every move, but if you can't handle it when you're on the field for all to see, get the hell out and find another line of work. No one has the right to take out his frustrations on someone else's property and/or person.
But back to the Sox. Analysis of team stats from the first half will be posted tomorrow. Tune in.
Let's leave the controversies aside for a moment and congratulate the Red Sox players who will represent the American League in next week's Major League All-Star Game.
All four Red Sox were elected by the fans as starters. Update: The four Red Sox position players were elected by the fans as starters; Matt Clement was named to the team when Toronto's Roy Halladay had to withdraw due to a broken leg.
WEEI sports radio's Dennis and Callahan Show (sans the vacationing Dennis and Callahan) is all over yesterday's announcement that when Curt Schilling returns to the major league roster, he will work out of the bullpen while Keith Foulke rehabs from knee surgery. The inference being drawn is that this means Schilling is the interim closer. Whether this will prove true or not remains to be seen, but several callers are arguing in favor of Mike Timlin, whose ERA in the set-up role is excellent, as Foulke's temporary replacement. On the other side, hosts Mike Adams and Michael Felger insist that Curt is the team's best pitcher and therefore is the obvious go-to guy when the team needs three outs in the ninth. They also cite Timlin's poor performance with allowing inherited runners to score11 of 18 this season, much higher than over his whole careeras well as the continuing need for a set-up man.
I come down firmly on the side of the Timlin supporters in this case. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of moving Schilling to the bullpen for the time being so he can build up his strength and confidence one inning at a time. Solid first innings in each of his last two AAA rehab starts bode well for success as a short reliever for the foreseeable future. But is he really a better choice than Timlin to close? Inherited runners are not an issue when a pitcher comes in at the start of an inning, as a closer usually does. They are more likely to be an issue with a set-up man, who (at least as utilized by the Red Sox this year) is more likely to come in mid-inning. So it seems logical to move Timlin from the set-up role, where he has done damage that doesn't show up in an ERA, into a closer's position. That frees up Schilling, who incidentally is far from this team's "best pitcher" at this moment (and this moment is when we're talking about), to fill in at set-up until he is once again ready to start.
In news that should surprise no one, Keith Foulke is going on the disabled list. The Red Sox' embattled closer needs arthroscopic knee surgery and will be out for 4-6 weeks. As I pointed out yesterday, the team supposedly had recommended the procedure during the off-season, but Foulke chose to put it off.
That's just terrific. If he had done things the way the team wanted them done, he would have been laid up until, say, the end of December; rehabbed until, say, early March; taken extended spring training and worked out the kinks until, say, mid to late April; and joined the team healthy for the month of May. Done his own way, he spent April, May, and June as a liability; will miss July and at least half of August on the DL; and then might be ready to go for the stretch run.
I'm not one to bash players or criticize those who try to work through the aches and pains that afflict every professional athlete at various times during the season. Such tenacity is a necessity, especially in a sport like baseball in which players have so little down time in the schedule. But why did Foulke hang on for so long, when it was so obvious that things weren't improving? Why didn't Terry Francona lay down the law and tell Foulke that he can't force him to have surgery, but he sure can bench him until he does?
Don't count on anyone to provide answers to those questions. The answers don't matter anyway, now that the damage is done.
Has Keith Foulke, he of the 6.23 earned run average in 2005, been hampered by a knee injury that he knew about but did not get treated? That is the report in the wake of Foulke's most recent meltdown and the announcement of his impending return to Boston for MRI studies.
Rumors are that the knee was a problem as far back as last season, and that the team wanted him to undergo arthroscopic surgery during the off-season. If that is true, it means the last three months of tribulation concerning the reliability of our closer have been not only unnecessary but also easily avoidable.
I don't think I'll ever understand why athletes feel the need to martyr themselves by putting off medical evaluation of physical problems, deluding themselves into thinking their teams are better off with them doing lousy than without them for a few weeks. It's one thing to suck it up for a short time, but quite another to cling to the hope that the problem will go away long after a couple weeks turns into months. Neither the player nor the team benefit. In this particular case, an injury Foulke might have rehabbed earlier in the season may now jeopardize his ability to pitch down the stretch when the Sox need him most. And the blown games cannot be undone no matter what happens from now on.
There is an adage that is so obviously wise that it tends to be ignored: if you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got. It's a little late for Keith Foulke to make use of that wisdom, but let's hope his team doesn't pay the price for his poor judgment.