BOSTON Barring a total calamity, Aaron Cooks second start with the Red Sox this season was virtually ensured of going better than his first.
In his first outing, May 5 facing the Orioles, Cook lasted just 2 23 innings, giving up seven runs, six earned, on eight hits and a walk with one home run. He was hurt covering home plate on a passed ball in the second inning, when his left shin was spiked opening a gash that required 11 stitches. Despite the injury, Cook stayed in the game.
But he was placed on the disabled list the next day with a record of 0-1 and a bloated 20.25 ERA.He had been working his way back since then. He was scheduled to make his second rehab start Saturday for Triple-A Pawtucket but was pulled just before game time.
In both major league starts Cook was pressed into service because of health concerns with other starters.In his first outing, he was taking the place of Josh Beckett, who was sidelined with a lat strain. On Sunday, the Sox needed him to fill in for Clay Buchholz, who has been hospitalized with gastrointestinal issues and placed on the 15-day DL (retroactive to June 20).
Against the Braves Sunday Cook went five innings, giving up three runs, two earned, on six hits, with no walks and no strikeouts, as the Sox won, 9-4. He earned the win, improving to 1-1, lowering his ERA to 9.39. Working at a brisk tempo, Cook threw 79 pitches, 48 strikes.
Cook kept the Braves off the scoreboard through the first four innings, giving up just three this, on 55 pitches, 34 strikes.
He faltered in the fifth, though, allowing the first four batters to reach base. Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons opened the inning with singles, scoring on Eric Hinskes triple to the deepest part of center field. Juan Francisco reached on Cooks error, with Hinske scoring. But Cook got out of the inning with no further damage, turning the game over to the bullpen.
It was his first win since Aug. 11, 2011, with the Rockies against the Marlins.
Aaron Cook was, I think, even a little more than I was hoping for, said manager Bobby Valentine. Got up close to 80 pitches and really only had that one ball to center field that was hit hard. The guys on before that, a groundball and a broken bat. But he worked quickly. His sinker looked good. He elevated some balls, threw inside to left-handers a little better than I had seen him in spring training or the last time out. It was a good job.
Although he had had just one rehab start with Pawtucket -- going four innings Monday night at Syracuse, giving up three runs on seven hits and a walk with three strikeouts, throwing 66 pitches -- Cook said that was enough.
Ive been doing it a long time. So its kind of like riding a bike, he said. Once you get your pitch count up to a certain level its just a matter of going out there and executing and letting the mechanics take care of everything and thats what I was able to do today.
Im really close to 100-percent, probably 85-, 90-percent of where I was. The biggest thing would be get my pitch count back up. I was at 66 pitches in my last Triple-A start. Sunday I was at 79 pitches. So I felt really good. It was nice to get out there and pitch some quality innings and get a win today.
Cook got nine of 15 outs on groundballs, a good sign that his signature sinker is working.
Actually, I felt a lot sharper than I did my last outing down in Pawtucket, he said. So actually kind of surprised. But my sinker was working, my cutter was working, and me and catcher Kelly Shoppach got into a great rhythm early and just keep going.
With Beckett on the DL, eligible to be activated Wednesday, and Buchholz, eligible to be activated July 5 although the severity of his health concerns is not known Cook is likely to stay in the rotation for the foreseeable future. Barring an unforeseen calamity.