First pitch: Time to look ahead in the rotation

First pitch: Time to look ahead in the rotation
August 22, 2012, 1:37 pm
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Aaron Cook's poor start Tuesday night -- five runs on 11 hits over five innings -- was merely the latest in a series, marking the third time in his last five outings that he's given up five or more runs and the fourth time in that span that he's failed to get through the sixth inning.

Over that span, Cook is 1-4 with a 6.92 ERA. For the season, his ERA is just under 5.00.

In turn, that led to some speculation that when Cook's spot next comes up in the rotation -- Sunday against Kansas City -- he'll be replaced by Daisuke Matsuzaka.

In what may or may not be a coincidence, Matsuzaka also pitched Tuesday -- at Pawtucket, as part of his rehab from a muscle pull in his shoulder -- and pitched effectively, tossing seven shutout innings, allowing just one hit.

That bit of neat timing would make it easy to simply plug Matsuzaka into Cook's spot for the remainder of the season, with Cook either going to the bullpen, dealt through waivers or released altogether.

"It's much too early to figure that one out," said manager Bobby Valentine when asked if Matsuzaka would take Cook's spot the next time through the rotation. "We'll watch the film tomorrow, see Dice, see how he feels and talk it over with everyone."

But while Matsuzaka has pitched effectively on his rehab, that would be a sideways move. Even if Matsuzaka turned in seven or so strong starts in the final six weeks, it would prove nothing.

Matsuzaka is a free agent at the end of the season and, obviously, isn't about to be re-signed by the Sox. He has next-to-no trade value -- the waiver deadline deal is just nine days away -- and even if he did, he has a full no-trade clause to further complicate matters.

More to the point, with the Sox falling farther back from contention with each paassing day, Matsuzaka's presence proves little. Maybe he could pitch effectively a handful of times for the remainder of the season, but toward what end? So the Red Sox can finish with 80 wins instead of 78?

At this point, the Red Sox need to frame every personnel move in the final months and a half through one question and one question only: Is this helping us get ready for 2013?

The answer regarding Matsuzaka, of course is: no. He'll be pitching somewhere else -- either in his native Japan or for some other team in the big leagues.

Every start Matsuzaka gets is a start taken away from someone who could be building toward next season.
If the Sox gave Cook's spot to, say, Felix Doubront, that would make infinitely more sense. Doubront has been sidelined with a combination of fatigue and knee issues, but will be eligible to come off the DL this weekend.

In a perfect world, the Sox would have some highly-regarded prospect at Triple A whom they could begin introducing to the big leagues. Alas, they do not. The team's best starting pitching prospect is probably Matt Barnes, who has yet to reach Double A, much less Triple A.

Without an obvious candidate in the minor leagues, Doubront should be the choice.

Doubront figures to be part of the Red Sox' rotation in 2013; Matsuzaka will most assuredly not.

That alone should point the Red Sox in the right direction.