McAdam: Two improving arms, one still weak bat

McAdam: Two improving arms, one still weak bat
August 11, 2014, 10:45 am
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Three things we learned about the Red Sox on Sunday in a 3-1 victory over the Angels.

1) Rubby De La Rosa has earned a spot in 2015 rotation already.

After the trades that sent Jon Lester to Oakland and John Lackey to St. Louis, the Red Sox announced that they would be using the final two months of the season to evaluate their young starting pitchers with an eye toward next season and beyond.

Of the group of younger pitchers, De La Rosa has been both the most domniant and consistent of the bunch. In seven of his last eight starts, De La Rosa has limited the opposition to three runs or fewer. And on six different occasions this year, he's yielded a run or no runs.

De La Rosa has a three-pitch mix (fastball, slider, changeup) that's necessary to be an effective starter in the big leagues.

So far, neither Brandon Workman nor Allen Webster has demonstated the same sort of consistency or depth in their repertoires. Workman seems to have taken a step backward in the past month or so and must conquer some first-inning issues. Webster, though he was truly impressive Friday night against the Angels, still must prove his can command his fastball and not be afraid to trust his stuff.

Not every pitcher's development is linear, and that's not to suggest that De La Rosa has it all figured out. There will be some challenges for him ahead, both the rest of this season and next year, too.

But De La Rosa is someone who has earned a longer look next year. If the Sox are going into the off-season with a number of question marks about their rotation, De La Rosa has removed himself from that category.

2) Slowly, gradually, Edward Mujica seems to have figured some things out.

Mujica's numbers aren't going to look great at the end of the season. That's inescapable. When a reliever has the kind of start to the season like Mujica had in April and May, the ERA is going to look fat for the rest of the season.

But lately, Mujica has been far more effective, and more like the pitcher the Red Sox thought they were getting last winter. When Mujica was signed, it was with the idea that he would serve as alternative closer when Uehara wasn't available, and perhaps take over the role in 2015.

At the very least, Mujica would be an experienced, dependable late-inning reliever who could help lighten the eighth inning load from Junichi Tazawa.

But Mujica couldn't get untracked earlier in the season and John Farrell and Juan Nieves were understandably reluctant to use him in high-leverage situations.

The loss of Andrew Miller at the deadline, however, has opened up a high-leverage spot in the seventh and eighth and Mujica has pitched well enough to deserve some of those innings.

Going back exactly a month to Aug. 11, Mujica made nine appearances and was scored upon just once. In eight innings, he's allowed eight hits and hasn't walked a batter, forming a 1.13 ERA.

The fact that Mujica has struck out just two hitters in those eight innings is evidence that there's more work to be done. It's tough to pitch in high-leverage spots without the ability to get strikeouts, or at the very least, swings and misses. (That doesn't, by the way, necessarily mean a pitcher must throw 95 mph-plus, as Uehara has demonstrated).

But if Mujica continues at this pace, he'll be another potential solution to the blank canvas that is the 2015 Red Sox pitching staff.

3) It would be a shame if Jackie Bradley Jr. didn't hit enough to warrant everyday playing time.

Bradley didn't collect a hit all weekend -- a problem that has now stretched to 0-for-32 -- and still, he was the talk of the series.

Angels' players, staff and media who hadn't seen much of Bradley, were in awe of his defensive brilliance, with two stupendous catches Friday and another on Saturday night.

The ensuing publicity may well help Bradley's candidacy for a Gold Glove, which he so richly deserves. Through any measure -- the eye-test or the most advanced metrics -- Bradley has been the best defensive outfielder in the American League. Period.

But he's got to hit some. Not a lot, especially if a bolstered lineup that features David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig allow the Sox to carry a weaker bat (or two).

But that weak bat can't struggle two stay over .200, and can't have two hitless streaks that exceed 25 at-bats in the same season.

If Bradley could hit .245-.250, learn to steal some bases and stay out of 10-day-long funks, he could guarantee himself regular playing time.

Let's hope he figures that out. This weekend was a reminder of what we could miss out on if Bradley can't improve as a hitter.