McAdam: Dempster likely destined for pen work

McAdam: Dempster likely destined for pen work
August 30, 2013, 12:00 pm

Following a five-day suspension -- and an accompanying 11-day exile from the Red Sox starting rotation because of it -- Ryan Dempster returns to the mound Friday night.
     
It remains to be seen how often Dempster will pitch again for the Sox for the remainder of the season, and in what capacity.
     
It's Dempster's misfortune to be pitching poorly at a time when 1) the Red Sox are about to encounter a number of scheduled off-days in the schedule and 2) Clay Buchholz is less than two weeks away from a projected return to the roster.
     
Even before Dempster ran afoul of Major League Baseball for his not-so-subtle beaning of Alex Rodriguez on Aug. 18, leading to his suspension, Dempster wasn't pitching well.
     
Immediately following a seven-start run from late May through early July in which Dempster didn't allow more than three runs in any one start, he suffered a reversal of fortune.
     
From a July 11 outing in Seattle through the last start against the Yankees, Dempster compiled a 6.81 ERA.
     
In that span, Dempster allowed 50 hits in 38 1/3 innings to go along with 15 walks. Remarkably, the Red Sox went 6-1 in those seven starts, but that was more a reflection of their offensive prowess than anything that Dempster did.
     
Only once in that stretch did Dempster pitch beyond the sixth inning, and four times -- including the now-infamous Yankee start -- he failed to get through the sixth.
     
That dip in performance had already put Dempster's spot in a potential playoff rotation in jeopardy, assuming the Red Sox reach the post-season. But now that Buchholz is two rehab outings from rejoining the major league rotation, Dempster may not be guaranteed any September starting assignments, either.
     
Though the Red Sox are in the middle of a stretch of 13 consecutive days without a scheduled day off, that will change soon enough. Beginning Sept. 9, the Sox will be off for three straight Mondays in September, with an additional day off on Sept. 26 when just three games remain in the season.
     
Assuming Buchholz returns as scheduled, he'll give the Red Sox six starters over the final 17 games, to be played over the final 20 days.
     
The Sox aren't about to mess with Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy or Felix Doubront, all of whom have pitched well in the last month or so. Buchholz, meanwhile, needs to build arm strength in the final three weeks to prepare for the playoffs.
     
That leaves Dempster as the odd man out -- barring some unforseen injury to others, or, a dramatic reversal of performance by one of the others.
     
Dempster is no stranger to a relief role, of course. He served as the Cubs' closer from 2005 through 2007, notching 85 saves in that span. If nothing else, Dempster could provide the Sox with another righthanded set-up option in September, a piece the team could surely use. For now, Brandon Workman and and Junichi Tazawa are the only righty options in the seventh and eighth innings.
     
Since being suspended, Dempster has thrown three bullpens and focused mostly on refining his mechanics and keeping the ball down in the strike zone. Those are necessary improvements, but unless something unexpected happens, he'll be putting those adjustments to use in the bullpen soon.