Commentary

Sox count on Big Three for now

Beckett, Lester and Buchholz hold the fort as Sox scramble to fill rotation

Updated: May 19, 2011, 9:30 AM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- As calamitous events go, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka going on the disabled list this week does not even belong in the same conversation with the many physical breakdowns the Red Sox endured last season, when six starters from the Opening Day lineup ultimately went down with injuries, most of them debilitating.

The Red Sox accounting department might disagree, of course, given that the two pitchers are still owed roughly $23 million and change on the $28 million they are drawing from John W. Henry's checkbook, and Matsuzaka's availability for the rest of the season is in serious question.

Matsuzaka has a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, the severity of which has yet to be determined. If it's bad enough, he'll need Tommy John ligament reconstruction surgery, which will sideline him for a year. The Sox are hoping that he responds to rest and rehabilitation, but you can safely assume that Matsuzaka will be soliciting a second opinion in the coming days.

[+] EnlargeJohn Lackey
Tom Szczerbowski/US PresswireJohn Lackey isn't expected to remain on the DL beyond the normal 15-day period...

Lackey, meanwhile, is not expected to remain on the DL beyond the normal 15-day period, though he told team publicist Pam Ganley he had no interest in discussing his condition with the media, snapping "Don't even try" when Ian Browne of MLB.com approached him Wednesday afternoon.

Lackey was given a cortisone shot in his elbow, though it is reasonable to wonder whether the Sox medical staff considered injecting him with Bartolo Colon's fat cells, given the miraculous recuperative effects that procedure has had on Lackey's former teammate on the Angels. Colon, who turns 38 on May 24, pitched eight scoreless innings against the Orioles Wednesday night after throwing 96 mile-an-hour fastballs against the Red Sox last Friday night.

No team likes to lose two-fifths of its starting rotation simultaneously, although in this case neither Lackey nor Matsuzaka was performing in a fashion that would inspire widespread grieving among the Sox faithful. After Clay Buchholz went seven scoreless innings Wednesday -- at a price of 127 pitches, leading one to ponder whether Terry Francona was tempting fate by risking the health of a third starting pitcher -- the Big Three of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Buchholz had a combined record of 12-5 with a 2.94 ERA.

The Little Two, meanwhile, had combined for a 5-8 record and 6.69 ERA, and remarkably had allowed one more earned run (57) than the Big Three (56). The combination of Tim Wakefield, the 44-year-old ancient mariner, and Alfredo Aceves, the bicycle-riding Mexican, should be able to provide a reasonable facsimile of, if not an outright improvement on, those numbers.

If not? The Red Sox would probably summon left-hander Felix Doubront from Pawtucket, although Doubront had elbow issues of his own in spring training and currently is on the PawSox' 7-day DL with a strained groin.

Aceves, only the second Mexican-born pitcher ever to play for the Sox (Vicente Romo, 1969-70, was the other), fell off a bicycle last winter and fractured his collarbone, or otherwise he'd probably be back with the Yankees. That was basically the last straw for the Bombers, who already were fretting about the back problems that limited Aceves to 10 games. They didn't offer him a guaranteed contract to return. That created an opening for the Sox, who signed him after one of Theo Epstein's top aides, Allard Baird, watched him throw in Miami. Aceves made four starts for the Yankees in 2008, beating the Angels 7-1 in his first big-league start, but proved far more valuable in a long-relief role in 2009, going 10-1 with a 3.54 ERA in 43 appearances. Now comes his chance to start, which is something the Red Sox had factored into their decision to sign him.

[+] EnlargeDaisuke Matsuzaka
Mark L. Baer/US Presswire...while Daisuke Matsuzaka could be out a month or maybe even longer.

Wakefield, meanwhile, gets another chance to narrow the gap with Roger Clemens and Cy Young, who share the club record of 192 wins while Wakefield remains stalled at 179. Wakefield already has been pressed into duty as a starter twice this season and delivered one beauty and one stinker; he'll follow Aceves this weekend against the Chicago Cubs, with Aceves going Saturday night and Wakefield getting the national TV treatment on Sunday night.

This is a tough time of the year to add a starting pitcher from outside, and, no, Pedro Martinez won't be walking through that door anytime soon. The Sox, however, have expressed interest in veteran Kevin Millwood, according to two baseball sources. His availability also comes courtesy of the Yankees. The Yankees signed Millwood late in spring training to a minor-league deal, one that allowed him to opt out if they didn't add him to the big-league roster by May 1. Millwood, who could have made as much as $1.5 million if the Yankees had summoned him, exercised that opt-out after making four minor-league starts and is sitting at home.

Millwood hardly qualifies as a big catch, not after a season in which he went 4-16 with a 5.10 ERA and was a free-agent bust for the Baltimore Orioles. But he did make 31 starts last season, and in a pitching-poor environment could offer the Sox some insurance in the short term.

And who knows, by then, Crème de Colon may be available for the asking.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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