When Buchholz returns, Sox have decisions at SP

When Buchholz returns, Sox have decisions at SP
August 9, 2013, 1:30 pm
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HOUSTON –  Clay Buchholz is expected to throw a bullpen session, making about 30-35 pitches, Friday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium. He made his first bullpen session on Tuesday, when he threw 27 pitches. Prior to that, he had not thrown from a mound since before the All-Star break in Oakland, when he had to shut down his session because of discomfort.
 
Buchholz was very happy with his Tuesday session, saying it was like night and day from his session in Oakland.
 
The right-hander has not appeared in a game since June 8 because of what was eventually diagnosed as inflammation of the bursa sac in his right shoulder, a finding confirmed by a visit to Dr. James Andrews.
 
There is still no date for a return to the rotation for Buchholz, who was one of the best pitchers in baseball at the time of his injury. He has a 9-0 record with what was then a major league-leading 1.71 ERA. He posted 10 quality starts in his 12 outings, while the Sox are 11-1 in his starts.
 
Buchholz, who will turn 29 on Wednesday, will likely need several rehab starts to get his pitch count up to prepare for regular work. The minor league seasons will be wrapping up soon, though. All the Sox minor league teams’ regular seasons end on Sept. 2, except for Low-A Lowell, which ends on Sept. 4.
 
Even if Buchholz were to make one more bullpen session after today’s and one rehab start, that puts him about two weeks away from returning to the rotation.
 
When he does return, though, the Sox will have a decision to make. They will have six starting pitchers in Buchholz, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Jake Peavy, Ryan Dempster, and Felix Doubront.
 
Most teams are loathe to talk about such decisions ahead of time, knowing that things can happen – an injury, performance issues -- between now and the time the decisions need to be made to make any kind of decision moot. Sometimes these things have a way of taking care of themselves.  And any speculation ahead of time could only cause angst and concern for the parties involved.
 
Still, barring injuries, something will have to be done.  The Sox are unlikely to go with a six-man rotation. Based on performance the likely candidates for a move to the bullpen would be Lester or Dempster.
 
Overall, Lester is 10-7 with a 4.37 ERA this season. In his first nine starts of the season, Lester went 6-0 with a 3.72 ERA. The Sox were 7-2 in those games. He was a big part of the reason the Sox got off to such a good start.
 
Since then, though, Lester, 29, has gone 4-7 with a 5.46 ERA in 15 starts while the Sox have gone 7-8 in those games. He suffered the loss Thursday night in Kansas City, despite posting a quality start, his 12th of the season. Lester went seven innings, giving up three runs, one earned, on four hits with two walks and four strikeouts in that outing. In his previous outing, Aug. 2 against the Diamondbacks at Fenway Park, he allowed six runs on a season-high 11 hits in a season-low 4 1/3 innings. That outing was a reversal from his previous three, in which he went a combined 19 2/3 innings, giving up a total of five runs on 17 hits and five walks with 20 strikeouts.
 
Dempster, 36, is 6-8 with a 4.67 ERA, while the Sox are 13-10 in his starts. He has posted 11 quality starts, the fewest of the regulars in the rotation.   In his last seven starts he has earned just one decision, a win in Baltimore on July 27, posting a 5.97 ERA in that stretch, pitching a total of 37 2/3 innings, an average of just over five innings per outing. The Sox have gone 6-1 in those games.
 
Dempster last worked out of the bullpen in 2007 in 66 appearances with the Cubs when he was 28-for-31 in save situations. His 90.3 percent save rate was the second-highest in a season for the Cubs, behind only his own 94.3 percent in 2005, when he converted 33 of 35.
 
Of Lester’s 212 major league appearances all but one have been as a starting pitcher. The lone appearance he made out of the bullpen was in 2007, pitching two innings in relief on Sept. 30, in his last appearance of the regular season and the Sox last game before the playoffs.
 
But, keep in mind, sometimes these things have a way of figuring themselves out.