McAdam: Lack of spending makes for shaky rotation

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McAdam: Lack of spending makes for shaky rotation

BOSTON -- In theory, at least, this is supposed to be the time of year where every team in baseball is on equal footing.

During the ramp-up to spring training, every prospect is a can't-miss star-in-the-making, every aging veteran is surely going to return to glory and every roster has the makings of a world champion.

In reality, of course, that's not true. Some teams are clearly better than others, a fact which will be revealed when the games begin for real.

By then, another cold reality will hit the Red Sox: their staring rotation is nowhere near as good as two others in their own division, to say nothing of the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and perhaps the Detroit Tigers.

"I think," allowed GM Ben Cherington before Thursday night's Boston Baseball Writers Association's annual awards dinner, "we have more questions right now than Tampa and New York, for example."

Tampa Bay already had an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the rotation, with five quality starters all under the age of 28. The New York Yankees had some uncertainty in their rotation -- "had" being the operative word, since a week ago, in the span of a few hours, the Yankees traded for Michael Pineda and signed Hiroki Kuroda.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, has built some back-end depth by signing veterans such as Aaron Cook, Carlos Silva and Vicente Padilla to minor-league deals.

The idea, of course, is for the Sox to hit on one or more of those candidates, in much the same way that the Yankees did last year with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.

The Sox are operating on the cheap for a change, since they're already projected to be over the 178 million luxury tax threshold. Any money the Red Sox spend going forward will come with a 40 percent tax, which has effectively taken them out of the running for Kuroda (who signed a one-year deal with the Yanks) and Roy Oswalt, who remains on the market with his asking price dropping -- but not enough for the Red Sox' liking.

Cherington pointed out that the team is content with the front end of its rotation (Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz) and confident that Daniel Bard will make a successful transition from bullpen to rotation.

But uncertainty hangs over the Red Sox starters. Beckett fell woefully out of shape in the second half and won just one game in the disastrous final month. He's pitched more than 200 innings just once since 2007.

Lester took a step backward last year, and while most of the statistical changes were slight, he did pitch fewer innings and recorded fewer strikeouts while watching his WHIP and ERA climb.

Buchholz didn't pitch after the first half of the season and must first demonstrate that he's completely recovered from a stress fracture in his back.

The Sox are hopeful that Bard can transfer his stuff to the rotation, but he's never started a pro game above Single A -- much less the big leagues -- and will almost surely have his workload monitored closely. Even if Bard more than doubled his innings total from a year ago, he'll likely fall way short of the magic 200-inning limit.

Perhaps the Red Sox' scouting will pay off with Cook or Silva or Padilla and they'll give the Red Sox some low-cost, high-yield innings. But realistically, what are the chances of that?

Remember that Colon underwent a controversial surgical procedure the prior year in his native Dominican Republic that may have accounted for his surprise season. And Garcia had won a dozen games as recently as the previous season for the White Sox.

(By contrast, the three Red Sox longshots won a combined 13 games in the majors last season).

Were it not for some payroll constraints, the Red Sox might have signed either Kuroki or Oswalt, and ownership's stance is understandable. The last two World Series champions have won titles with payrolls about half of what the Sox have already committed for 2013. If you can't be competitive at 178 million, then perhaps there other factors at work.

And there are, of course. The current Red Sox payroll is bloated with dead money on the books for Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey. Lackey will miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery while Matsuzaka might be back by August after undergoing the same procedure last summer.

But the Sox are picking a curious time to watch payroll. Surely it hasn't escaped their attention that they are coming off not one but two straight third-place finishes, each resulting in a DNQ for the postseason.

By limiting payroll, they're putting both Cherington and new manager Bobby Valentine in a tough spot. Yes, the offense will produce runs by the boatload and yes, it's conceivable that the starting pitching, with some breaks, will be more than good enough.

For now, however, weeks before players report to spring training, there's too much uncertainty surrounding the Boston rotation to make the team feel as confident as it ordinarily would at this time of year.

Patrick Towles throws for 2 TDs, Boston College beats Buffalo, 35-3

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Patrick Towles throws for 2 TDs, Boston College beats Buffalo, 35-3

BOSTON - Patrick Towles threw for two touchdowns, Davon Jones and Jon Hilliman each ran for one and Boston College coasted past Buffalo, 35-3 on Saturday afternoon.

It was the second straight win for the Eagles (3-2) after they beat FCS-school Wagner last week.

The Eagles, who entered with the nation's sixth ranked defense, dominated on the defensive side.

"I think it was a pretty clean performance," Eagles defensive end Harold Landry said. "It was expected. We were supposed to do that. We don't expect nothing less."

Towles, a graduate transfer from Kentucky, completed 14 of 25 passes for 234 yards with no interceptions. He also ran eight times for 18 yards, but fumbled it away twice.

Hilliman had 54 yards rushing and Jones 53 for the Eagles.

"Totally dominating performance," BC coach Steve Addazio said. "It's great to get a win and go out and do what we needed to do."

Buffalo (1-3) was held to just 67 total yards. Quarterback Tyree Jackson completed 9 of 21 for only 42 yards, and the Bulls had just 26 yards on the ground.

"Never had any semblance of any type of sustained drive or movement, so that's disappointing," Buffalo coach Lance Leipold said.

With a steady mist blowing most of the game on a cool day, the Eagles came out throwing the ball more than usual and opened a 21-3 lead at halftime.

BC redshirt freshman receiver Chris Garrison made an outstanding catch to set up the first TD, but was taken off the field on a stretcher after the play in the first quarter with a fractured left tibia.

Garrison made a leaping grab on 44-yard pass from Towles at the Bulls' 11-yard line, but he came down awkwardly on his leg. Trainers called for a stretcher and an air cast was put on before he was taken off.

Five plays later, Jones had a 1-yard scoring run to push the Eagles ahead 7-0.

Midway into the second quarter, Towles topped an 11-play, 54-yard drive with a 7-yard TD toss to Charlie Callinan.

After a 28-yard field goal by Buffalo's Adam Mitcheson, Towles connected on an 11-yard TD pass to receiver Michael Walker along the back line of the end zone - just over the outstretched hands of linebacker Jarrett Franklin - to make it 21-3 with 21 seconds left in the half.

Heinen coming up big with Bruins' roster openings on the wing

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Heinen coming up big with Bruins' roster openings on the wing

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Danton Heinen has to know he’s got a fair shot to win an NHL job out of B’s training camp if he plays with confidence and assertiveness. 

So far, that little Black and Gold carrot has served him well in the preseason. The 21-year-old winger has scored a goal in each of his first two preseason appearances for the Bruins. He will be pushed back into the lineup again vs. the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night.

The difference this time around is Claude Julien will be behind the bench once again for the Bruins after his time with the World Cup of Hockey and the B’s lineup will start to take on more of a real NHL feel with David Pastrnak and David Backes entering the mix.

Julien has liked what he’s seen thus far out of the University of Denver product, and clearly he’ll keep getting looks as long as the production and good work ethic are there.

“I think he’s been a real good player. He’s a smart player that seems to be heady and sees the play well. He seems to be in the right place and understands the game,” said Julien. “The hockey sense is something that you either have or you don’t, and I think he has great hockey sense. It certainly makes a great hockey player. I’ve liked him so far and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him.”

One other thing is certain: wing positions are open on the roster with Frankie Vatrano out for three months and Jimmy Vesey sharpening his skates at Madison Square Garden as a New York Ranger.

“We have to keep an open mind.  Frank Vatrano is hurt, and we kind of felt that he was going to have a really good start to this year. His confidence seemed to be at its highest, and the World Championships were good for him,” said Julien. “We have to look at what we have for a replacement. We went after Jimmy Vesey and we didn’t get him. So there are some spots that are open, and there’s no doubt about it.

“I’m going to be looking at compete level and I’ll be watching for the next three games to see who can fit in those spots. There are open spots, so it’s not cut-and-dried like a lot of years when it has been.”

Clearly, the high-end offensive skill is there after posting 36 goals and 93 points in his first two years at the University of Denver prior to going pro, and Heinen has a dollop of pro experience after getting into three AHL games with Providence at the end of last season. 

The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder showed off the playmaking ability setting up his teammates for chances in Friday night’s win over the Red Wings, and then finally scoring at crunch time in the third period when the coaching staff moved Zach Senyshyn to his opposite wing.

Both of his goals in this preseason have been tying scores in the third that factored prominently in the game’s outcome. That’s been impressive for a young prospect in his very first NHL camp.

But Heinen claims there is still more to come in his game, and that’s encouraging. He’s just starting to get comfortable as a player that uses his vision, hockey IQ and passing to generate loads of scoring chances when he’s on the ice.

“I feel pretty good. I’ve felt better as things have gone on, and I felt better [on Friday against Detroit] than I did in the first game,” said Heinen, who finished just behind a couple of guys named Jack Eichel and Dylan Larkin for the NCAA scoring title as a freshman a couple of years ago. “I just need to keep getting better. I think I have a lot more to give. I’m just trying to put my best foot forward, and we’ll see what happens.

“I think I’ve rushed a few plays where I feel like I could hang onto [the puck] and make a smarter play. So it’s little things like that. As I play a little more then I get more comfortable hanging onto it, so I hope to do a little more than that.”

It will also be interesting to see how Heinen responds to again being in the B’s lineup on Saturday for back-to-back, physical preseason games when the NCAA schedule can be a bit more spaced with weekend games. 

There are other candidates like Jake DeBrusk and Zachary Senyshyn that have enjoyed solid training camps to date for the Bruins, but it feels like Heinen is starting to push ahead for one of those winger roster spots Julien has in mind as he watches these final four exhibition games leading into the regular season.