McAdam: Rain-delay hangover could wear on


McAdam: Rain-delay hangover could wear on

By SeanMcAdam

BOSTON -- Three weeks ago Wednesday, an innocent rainout helped, temporarily at least, turn the Red Sox season around.

Now the question is whether Wednesday's rain delay and 13-inning marathon this week will have the opposite effect.

Since their frustrating 5-3 loss to the Angels late Wednesday nightearly Thursday morning, the Red Sox have 1) tweaked their starting rotation 2) inserted Tim Wakefield into the rotation for the second time in six days 3) placed two relievers on the disabled list and 4) called up three different pitchers from their Pawtucket affiliate.

On April 13, with their game against the Tampa Bay Rays washed out, the Red Sox did some refiguring with their rotation. Much to his consternation, they skipped John Lackey's turn -- he was to have started the game which was rained out --- and re-arranged the order of their starters.

What followed was a stretch that saw the starters compile a collective 1.79 ERA over the next 19 games. Not coincidentally, the team went 12-7 in those 19 games, riding their dominant starting pitching to a five-game winning streak on the West Coast, 8 wins in 10 tries, and most critically, climb back to within a game of .500 heading into Wednesday's rain-soaked mess.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, who had been horrid before the rainout, took advantage of some extra time on the side to turn in back-to-back one-hitters and perhaps salvage his spot in the rotation. Even Lackey, the pitcher most impacted by the reshuffling -- and, certainly, the most agitated -- responded by allowing just three earned runs over his next 20 innings pitched.

The Red Sox may not have been hitting much, but with starters routinely taking the team into the seventh inning and beyond, that wasn't altogether necessary. The most slump-prone teams can usually muster three runs, and when the Sox lineup met that minimum standard, it usually translated into a win.

If nothing else, there was a sense that things had stabilized in the wake of their disastrous 2-10 start.

But just as things came together in the Sox' forced re-org, there exists the possibility that it can fall apart just as quickly.

When the Sox were forced to go with Matsuzaka in the 13th and final inning Wednesday night -- in large part because Bobby Jenks was unavailable with biceps tendinitis -- it set off a whole sequence of moves.

Matsuzaka, who was removed from his last start for precautionary reasons stemming from his alarming dip in velocity, was unavailable to make his next scheduled start, Friday, against Minnesota. That, in turn, led to Wakefield being plugged in as a spot starter, with Matsuzaka's return to the rotation delayed until Sunday.

But the real fallout is in the bullpen, where Jenks and Wheeler are gone for the next two weeks, replaced by Hill and, after a cameo from Scott Atchison, Alfredo Aceves.

So much for stability. So much for pitchers finding a rhythm.

"Obviously, you'd like your pitching set up perfectly,'' said pitching coach Curt Young, "with the five guys that you know you can trust. With the rainout and Daisuke having to pitch, that kind of breaks up those five guys again. Having everyone lined up is how you get on a consistent roll.

"That's what we had when we had those guys go through the rotation twice, get on a roll and we won 8 out of 10 games. That's the key -- getting not just your starters, but your bullpen, too, in line. That's the feeling the manager likes to have and I like to have. When your top guys are going down, you lose that.''

The Sox must now identify other options for the sixth (Wheeler's role) and seventh (where Jenks had been utilized), all the while hoping that the reshuffled rotation can maintain its consistency.

Last time they moved the pieces around, it seemed like they were being proactive. This time, with injuries entering the picture, there's more a sense of reaction.

How the rotation -- and staff in general -- react to the re-arrangements taking place will go a long way in dictating how the team itself performs and how quickly it makes up lost ground in the standings.

Last time, they used it as a benefit. Hoping that happens again may, however, be pressing their luck.

Sean McAdam can be reached at Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam