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.

A hungry ballplayer: Ex-Sox prospect Moncada sometimes eats 85 Twinkies a week

A hungry ballplayer: Ex-Sox prospect Moncada sometimes eats 85 Twinkies a week

This isn’t your average young and hungry player on the brink of the big leagues.

Yoan Moncada, the ex-Red Sox prospect who was one of the principal pieces in the trade for Chris Sale, has sometimes eaten as many as 85 Twinkies in a week, his agent told ESPN The Magazine

He's still in great shape. Moncada had a huge spring training with the White Sox after a disappointing major-league debut with Boston in September. 

"It's fair to say that Yoan took it as a very personal rejection," his agent, David Hastings, told ESPN The Magazine.

The 21-year-old third baseman has been optioned out of big-league camp, so he’s slated to start the year in Triple-A. But he hit .317 with a .391 on-base percentage and .683 slugging percentage and 3 home runs in 41 at-bats.

Moncada took a $31.5 million signing bonus from the Red Sox, money that the Sox turned into Sale. Moncada, meanwhile, didn’t exactly invest every cent.

Twinkies weren’t his only overindulgence. Per the ESPN The Magazine story, Moncada placed a call in 2015 inquiring about 10 customized cars. 

More from the story: 

Moncada had money to spend on drones, video games, toys and clothes. He sometimes spent $1,500 or more during nights out, David says. After he purchased the second $200,000 car, Josefa [Hastings, David’s wife] tried to talk some sense into him.

"You are being an idiot, just wasting all this money," she told him. "What are you even thinking?”

"Go big or go home," he told her with a smile.

Drellich: Bogaerts should start season in second half of lineup

Drellich: Bogaerts should start season in second half of lineup

The Red Sox need to let their lineup sort itself out a bit, and really, need to see how one core player in particular fares: Xander Bogaerts. 
 
Until then, Red Sox manager John Farrell should try to alternate right- and left-handed hitters as much as possible against right-handed pitching
 
If Thursday’s Grapefruit League lineup indeed winds up as a preview for the regular season, Farrell’s on the right track.
 
1. Dustin Pedroia 2B
2. Andrew Benintendi LF
3. Mookie Betts RF
4. Hanley Ramirez DH
5. Mitch Moreland 1B
6. Xander Bogaerts SS
7. Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
8. Pablo Sandoval 3B
9. Blake Swihart C
 
Sandy Leon or Christian Vazquez should be at catcher normally, rather than Swihart. (If Leon shows he can in fact hit again, the Sox could also decide to put Jackie Bradley Jr. in the nine-hole.)
 
"Maybe a first look at our lineup," manager John Farrell told reporters in Florida. "I'm not saying this is Opening Day, but this is potential for one on Opening Day. And just to get everybody back in the rhythm. We've kind of fragmented because of the WBC and because of travel and bouncing around the state. To get our camp finally together, I think we're all looking forward to these last remaining games."
 
Betts is the best all-around producer the Red Sox have. He should be in the three-hole, despite chatter than Andrew Benintendi might be a fit.
 
But Bogaerts’ success will determine a lot of the flexibility available to Farrell. (Yes, everybody has to be healthy for the above statement to be true. And remember, lineups are important, but probably not as important as we’ve all been raised to believe). 

If Bogaerts plays like he did in the first half, when he batted .329 en route to an All-Star appearance, he could easily slide into the three-hole, and push Betts into the second or fourth spot. Or even leadoff.
 
If Bogaerts is the .253 hitter he was after the All-Star break, well, the second half of the lineup is where he belongs. 
 
Bogaerts is, ultimately, better than he showed as both he and the season wore down. But let him establish himself in a groove before you start loading up the top of the lineup with right-handed hitters, thereby giving opposing managers a clear path for righty relievers.
 
(The Red Sox could pinch hit Chris Young at any time, but you’re usually not taking out one of your best players just for a platoon advantage.)
 
And from another perspective, you almost need Bogaerts in the second half of the lineup. Because what else is there?
 
Say the Sox load all four right-handed hitters at the top.
 
1. Pedroia
2. Bogaerts
3. Betts
4. Ramirez 
 
That’s awesome. Then what? Benintendi and cross your fingers? Benintendi seems as sure a thing as any sophomore — well, technically a rookie — can be. But still.
 
This is where Moreland and Sandoval represent other X-factors. All spring, there’s been talk of how Fenway Park and a use-all-fields approach will benefit Moreland. That may be so — but to what extent? How much better can he reasonably be? The Sox are internally encouraged.
 
As it stands now, however, there’s no obvious choice to protect Ramirez, considering Moreland is coming off a season where he had a .293 on-base percentage against righties.
 
And with Sandoval, whether he’s anything more than a wet napkin vs. left-handed pitching is to be seen. There’s reason to believe he can handle right-handed pitchers at least adequately, so he'll get the start — but he could be the first guy pinch hit for nightly.