The Boston Red Sox will activate Clay Buchholz from the disabled list today to start tonight's game against the Seattle Mariners. It will be the first major league start for Buchholz since May 26th in Atlanta, after which he was sidelined by what the team called a hyperextended knee.
Really, Buchholz just needed a break to get his mind right. By his own admission, his issues were more mental than physical. The Red Sox hope that his time rehabbing in the minors has allowed him to regain his focus and fix any mechanical issues that led to a disastrous start to the season. Buchholz carries a hideous 7.02 ERA and 1.98 WHIP through 10 starts this season.
His return throws a wrench into the rest of the Red Sox rotation. Felix Doubront recently made his own return from the DL, while Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa have both pitched well enough to warrant a spot in the rotation. That gives Boston seven potential options to fill five starting spots.
Buchholz has to be given a chance to earn one of those spots. What he's shown us this season has been ugly, but he also showed in the first half of last season what he's capable of. He's not going to dominate to the tune of a 1.74 ERA like he did through 16 starts last year, but his upside is too great to give up on him now. He should get at least a few starts to prove himself and if he can't get the job done then it may force the Red Sox to shut him down again with some sort of phantom injury to make room for someone else.
Jon Lester and John Lackey are both locks to remain in the rotation, but after that it gets dicey. Jake Peavy is struggling through the worst season of his career with a 4.93 ERA. That's no fluke, as his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is a nearly identical 4.92. His strikeout rate has dropped off drastically (6.75 K/9) and his 38 walks is already more than he issued all of last season. Yet the Red Sox may feel compelled to roll with him due to his $16 million salary. Unless they can find a trade partner to take him off their hands (perhaps he'd find success in a pitcher friendly NL park), what else can they do with him? Ditto for Doubront, who has been even worse (4.99 ERA, 5.14 FIP). Both have enough service time to prevent the Red Sox from simply demoting them to the minor leagues, so barring an injury they are essentially stuck finding a place on the active roster for them. Or they could designate them for assignment, but they aren't prepared to do that with either of them yet.
For now, Doubront has been moved to the bullpen, but manager John Farrell said he plans to use him in a start next week. Brandon Workman's suspension ended yesterday, so he's been penciled in for a start on Friday against the New York Yankees. He proved to be a valuable asset out of the bullpen during Boston's postseason run last year, but his 3.21 ERA through 5 starts this season certainly suggests he deserves a spot in the rotation. The Red Sox may be toying with the idea of a six-man rotation until the situation manages to work itself out. With the trade deadline looming just over a month away, it's likely Boston could trade away some of it's surplus pitching – either for a veteran outfield bat if they expect to get back into the playoff race or for prospects if they decide to waive the white flag on this season. One way or another, the rotation will fall into place eventually.
So what happens to Rubby De La Rosa? The young flamethrower has been brilliant in his last two starts, giving up only 1 run through is last 14 innings and has a 2.51 ERA through 5 starts. It's hard to argue against him being one of the team's five best options in the rotation, so he's certainly earned the spot. On the other hand, somebody needs to go in order to make room when Buchholz is activated and De La Rosa still has options to be sent back to Pawtucket.
There has been some talk about the possibility of Chris Capuano being designated for assignment. After a 15.0 scoreless inning streak to start the season, the veteran reliever has fallen apart. His ERA has ballooned to 4.55 and he's been called upon only three times since June 6th.
Ideally, the Red Sox rotation should consist of Lester, Lackey, Buchholz, Workman and De La Rosa. Those are the five best options the team has right now. Unfortunately, these decisions aren't always made based on who deserves it most. We should get some clarity once the team is forced to make a roster move prior to tonight's game, but even once that decision is made, the Red Sox still have their work cut out for them sorting out this mess.
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