The Red Sox have been fortunate this season that their starting pitchers, for the most part, were able to maintain their health.
There was, of course, Clay Buchholz’s three-month absence, but the team managed to survive without his loss adversely affect the team. While Buchholz was on the disabled list for 82 games with inflammation in the bursa sac of his right shoulder, the Sox went 50-32 in that stretch, a .608 winning percentage that mirrors their 95-62, .605 season record.
John Lackey missed 19 games in April with a right biceps strain, but is currently at 183 1/3 innings, second on the staff to Jon Lester’s 208 1/3 innings.
After Sunday’s win over the Blue Jays at Fenway Park, manager John Farrell announced his rotation for the remaining five games of the regular season. Lackey will start Tuesday at Colorado, with Jake Peavy getting bumped to Wednesday. Originally, Lackey was going to work an inning out of the bullpen after Peavy on Tuesday, while Wednesday’s starter had been listed as TBA. Farrell has suggested it could have been one of the young pitchers the team has been carrying, with several pitchers getting work out of the bullpen.
The final series in Baltimore will have Buchholz starting Friday, followed by Lester on Saturday, and Lackey for the season finale on Sunday. Getting two starts in the final five games is a bit a reward for Lackey, giving him the chance to even out his record. Lackey, who has pitched better than his win-loss record has indicated for much of the season, is at 10-12. Beleaguered by a lack of run support -- a staff low of 4.27 runs per game -- he has been above .500 just twice this season, at 6-5 on July 2 and 7-6 on July 12.
His ERA, though, now at 3.44, has been respectable for most of the season. It has been above 4.00 just twice -- after his first start of the season, cut short after 4 1/3 innings because of an injury, and on May 14, after giving up five earned runs to the Rays in 4 1/3 innings, his two shortest outings of the season. In his last five outings, since Aug. 28, Lackey is 3-1 with a 4.54 ERA, while the Sox are 4-1 in those outings.
Left-hander Felix Doubront is not among the scheduled starting pitchers in the remaining games. He is expected to move to the bullpen after Sunday’s start, when he earned the win against the Blue Jays. Right-hander Ryan Dempster has already moved to the pen, making a one-inning relief appearance on Saturday.
Dempster, who had not made a relief appearance since Sept. 30, 2007, while with the Cubs, embraced the change. He earned 85 saves with the Cubs from 2005-07.
“Yeah, totally, man, I think it’s awesome,” Dempster said. “We’re trying to do something special here and trying to go out there and compete for a championship. So any place I can help, I feel like I can help, I can get righties and lefties out. So hopefully I can be a guy that they lean on in the biggest pressure situations there are. Those are the kinds of things you look for.”
Farrell had already spoken publicly of his plans to move Doubront to the pen, but after Sunday’s game Doubront said those plans had not yet been conveyed to him.
“I don’t know about that right now,” Doubront said. “They have to tell me.”
With Sunday’s win Doubront improved to 11-6 with a 4.08 ERA. Sunday’s outing was his first since Sept. 6. In his previous two outings he went a combined 7 1/3 innings, just 3 2/3 in each, giving up 10 earned runs on 10 hits and seven walks with six strikeouts. He took no-decisions in both games, while the Sox won both. Doubront believed the rest paid off on Sunday, when he went seven innings, giving up two runs, on four hits and two walks with two strikeouts. He threw 97 pitches, 61 for strikes.
“It helped,” Doubront said. “The velo went up. I feel strong. I was impressed, sometimes when you get that kind of rest and you try to do too much. I was trying just to throw strikes and that helped.”
“He was very good, much more powerful than the last few times out,” Farrell said. “His fastball was live. A lot of strikes, maybe not the number of strikeouts we’re used to seeing from Felix but I thought he carried his delivery through seven innings. They were efficient. He went to his changeup when he needed it. He was just much more fresh and rested. A solid seven innings of work.
“There was that 15 stretch start where he was consistent as anyone in our rotation. He’s a talented lefthander. He’s got a full complement of pitches and some swing and miss in his fastball. We’ve talked a number of times this year where guys stepped up. In that time, he was as good as anyone in our rotation at the time.”
Of Doubront’s 28 appearances this season, just one has been out of the pen this season, on May 8 against the Twins, entering in relief of Allen Webster, who lasted just 1 2/3 innings. Doubront is at 161 innings this season, matching his career high of last season.
Stamina has been an issue with Doubront in past seasons and is a concern this season.
“He’s always been a guy with great aptitude," said Farrell. “He’s got a willingness to learn. The only thing that limits him current is the stamina and endurance to get through a full season. He’s an extremely talented young guy.”
Farrell said Doubront, because of needed down time after his Sunday start, won’t be available from the pen until the weekend series in Baltimore. And with opportunities uncertain for that series, it’s unknown if the Sox will see enough from his relief work to evaluate him for the postseason roster.
Doubront, who posted a 3.87 ERA in his 27 starts and matched his career high with 11 wins, proved his value this season. But, he has also maintained that he prefers to be a starter rather than work out of the pen. There's a combination of factors could leave him on sidelines, at least for the best-of-five ALDS. The Sox have several other lefty relievers from which to choose, including, Craig Breslow, who continues to demonstrate his value, Matt Thornton, Franklin Morales, and rookie Drake Britton.
“When you see 160 innings, 11-6, you view Felix as a guy as someone with more left in there,” Farrell said.
But, is there enough to include him on the postseason roster?