First pitch: Time to look ahead in the rotation

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First pitch: Time to look ahead in the rotation

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.

Report: Third base among 'major upgrades' Red Sox seek by trade deadline

Report: Third base among 'major upgrades' Red Sox seek by trade deadline

Despite still being owed more than $42 million after this year, Pablo Sandoval's days with the Red Sox appear numbered. So, it's no surprise that landing a third baseman at the trade deadline is a priority.

That's among the "major upgrades" the Sox are seeking by the July 31 deadline, MLB.com columnist Mark Feinsand reports.

With Sandoval now on his second disabled list stint of the season - this time with an ear infection - after turning into what Feinsand calls "a horror tale for the Red Sox," and with fill-ins Josh Rutledge and Deven Marrero holding down third, it's apparent that the position is a glaring need.

"Sandoval is basically a non-entity at this point," a source told Feinsand. "They need to make a move there."

Feinsand mentions the usual suspects - Mike Moustakas of the Royals and Todd Frazier of the White Sox - as possibilities. Also, he wonders if former MVP Josh Donaldson could be pried away from the Blue Jays (if "Dave Dombrowski knocks their socks off") with an offer and if Toronto is still sputtering at the deadline?

Those other upgrades? "Boston is also looking for pitching, both in the rotation and bullpen," Feinsand writes. Again, no surprise there.

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

A look under the hood is not encouraging. A look at the performance is.

The sideshows for the Red Sox have been numerous. What the team’s success to this point has reinforced is how much talent and performance can outweigh everything else. Hitting and pitching can drown out a word that rhymes with pitching — as long as the wins keep coming.

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At 40-32, the Sox have the seventh-best win percentage (.556) in the majors. What they lack, by their own admission, is an intangible. Manager John Farrell told reporters Wednesday in Kansas City his club was still searching for its identity.

“A team needs to forge their own identity every year,” Farrell said. “That’s going to be dependent upon the changes on your roster, the personalities that exist, and certainly the style of game that you play. So, with [David Ortiz’s] departure, his retirement, yeah, that was going to happen naturally with him not being here. And I think, honestly, we’re still kind of forming it.”

To this observer, the vibe in the Red Sox clubhouse is not the merriest. 

Perhaps, in the mess hall, the players are a unified group of 25 (or so), living for one another with every pitch. What the media sees is only a small slice of the day. 

But it does not feel like Farrell has bred an easygoing, cohesive environment.

Farrell and big boss Dave Dombrowski appeared unaligned in their view of Pablo Sandoval’s place on the roster, at least until Sandoval landed on the disabled list. 

Hanley Ramirez and first base may go together like Craig Kimbrel and the eighth inning. Which is to say, selfless enthusiasm for the ultimate goal of winning does not appear constant with either.

Dustin Pedroia looked like the spokesperson of a fractured group when he told Manny Machado, in front of all the cameras, “It’s not me, it’s them,” as the Orioles and Red Sox carried forth a prolonged drama of drillings. 

Yet, when you note the Sox are just a half-game behind the Yankees for the American League East lead; when you consider the Sox have won 19 of their past 30 games, you need to make sure everything is kept in proportion.

How much are the Sox really hurt by a lack of identity? By any other issue off the field?

Undoubtedly, the Sox would be better positioned if there were no sideshows. But it’s hard to say they’d have ‘X’ more wins.

The Sox would have had a better chance of winning Wednesday’s game if Kimbrel pitched at any point in the eighth inning, that’s for sure. 

Kimbrel is available for one inning at this point, the ninth, Farrell has said.

A determination to keep Kimbrel out of the eighth because that’s not what a closer traditionally does seems like a stance bent on keeping Kimbrel happy rather than doing what is best for the team. The achievement of a save has been prioritized over the achievement of a team win, a state of affairs that exists elsewhere, but is nonetheless far from ideal — a state of affairs that does not reflect an identity of all for one and one for all.

Maybe the Sox will find that identity uniformly. Maybe they’re so good, they can win the division without it.