Sox swap Buchholz and Lackey for ALCS

Sox swap Buchholz and Lackey for ALCS
October 11, 2013, 6:30 pm
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BOSTON -- On Thursday, the Red Sox announced that they would go with the same 25-man roster in the American League Championship Series that they utilized in the Division Series.     

On Friday, the Sox doubled down on the same starting rotation, with one minor tweak: while Jon Lester will pitch the series opener and Jake Peavy will be the Game 4 starter, the Sox flipped John Lackey and Clay Buchholz.     

Lackey, who started Game 2 against the Tampa Bay Rays, will not go until Game 3 of the ALCS, while Buchholz, the Game 3 starter in the ALDS, will be moved up to go in Game 2 Sunday against Detroit.     

In the first series, the Sox cited Lackey's extreme splits when it came to home and road performances. Lackey's ERA at Fenway is more than two runs better than it was in road starts during the regular season, so the Sox naturally had him pitch at home, rather than at Tropicana Field.      

But in the ALCS, the differences in ballparks is not as significant. Detroit's Comerica Park plays as big as any ballpark in the American League, and its vast dimensions in right-enter field and right are as forgiving as those at Fenway, where Lackey has enjoyed his most success.     

Just as Fenway enables Lackey to pitch righthanders away and lefthanders in, knowing that the triangle in right-center and the 370 foot dimension to straightaway right will keep most balls in the park, Comerica offers the same sense of security.     

That was manifest during the regular season, when Lackey pitched a terrific game in Comerica on June 20, limiting the Tigers to two runs on seven hits in seven innings. (The Red Sox would lose that game in the bottom of the ninth on a walkoff homer off then-closer Andrew Bailey).     

"The game that John pitched in Detroit earlier,'' said John Farrell, "he threw the ball well in Detroit, too.''     

Beyond that, Farrell was somewhat circumspect in explaining the changes the rotation.     

"We just feel like with the alignment that we have,'' he said, "it gives us the best opportunity to take control of the series. We felt like with Clay falling in behind Jon (Lester), it gives us a contrast in style. And that would be the case with John Lackey as well. But we felt like we could [get] some additional work done with Lackey today.''     

In lining Lackey up for Game 3, the Sox do so with full knowledge that should the ALCS go the full seven games, he would also be in position to pitch Game 7. In both starts, he'd be matched against Justin Verlander.      

Lackey is no stranger to such big games, having pitched the Angels to a 2002 championship by winning Game 7 against the San Francisco Giants in his rookie season.     

It's also possible that the Sox are attempting to limit his workload this late in the season, given that he's less than two years removed from Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right elbow.     

Lackey responded better than anyone could have expected in his first full year back, compiling a 3.52 ERA while pitching in 189 1/3 innings. Add in his Game 2 start in the ALDS and Lackey has pitched 194 2/3 innings, approaching the 200-inning mark for the season.     

Just two weeks ago, the Sox had planned to have Lackey start the final game of the regular season in Baltimore, but having clinched the best overall record in the American League the day before, the team scratched Lackey from his final outing and made the game a bullpen game, utilizing relievers instead.     

In retrospect, that may have been the first sign that the Sox were mindful of the wear-and-tear the season took on Lackey and are taking steps to allow him to have more bounce back time between October starts.     

Lackey pitched two innings of a simulated game at Fenway to ensure that he didn't go nine days in between starts.