Red Sox not perfect, lacking starting pitching depth


Red Sox not perfect, lacking starting pitching depth

By SeanMcAdam

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Felix Doubront, the talented young lefty who impacted the Red Sox' bullpen late last season, is suffering from tightness in his left elbow and has been told to stop throwing for the next 10 days-to-two weeks as a precaution.

"We're going to take a cautious approach,'' said manager Terry Francona. "You won't see him out there for the new future.''

Francona emphasized that Doubront was examined by the medical staff and "everything structurally is fine. He's had this before and we'd rather not go three or four days and have him nurse it through. He's too young, potentially too good. We'd rather take a more cautious approach.''

Doubront's setback may be minor and temporary, but it was a stark reminder of how thin the Red Sox' organizational depth is when it comes to starting pitching.

Even before Doubront was shut down, general manager Theo Epstein had exhibited concern over the team's depth behind its own major league rotation.

In comments to the media last week, Epstein noted that most teams end up utilizing between eight and 10 starters per season. Beyond the rotation, Epstien noted, only Alfredo Aceves and veteran Tim Wakefield were in line, creating some anxiety.

Presumably, Epstein didn't mention Doubront as a possible starting candidate because the lefty has just three major league starts.

Still, even before the calendar turns to March, the Sox appear shallow in their starting pitching.

Wakefield is one of the game's oldest players and has visited the disabled list in each of the last three seasons. For now, Wakefield's role on the 2011 Red Sox will be as the team's long man and emergency spot starter. Wakefield qualified for the All-Star team in 2009 with a strong first half, but has had difficulty staying healthy for long stretches.

Aceves, signed earlier this month, sports a 14-1 career mark and is versatile enough to both start and relieve. Further, he's pitched the American League East cauldron before, a positive bit of experience.

But Aceves, too, has seen his career frequently interrupted by injuries and last week, a New York Yankee official, asked why the organization failed to re-sign him, cited his inability to stay on the field. For a team casting a wide net and inviting the likes of Bartolo Colon and Mark Prior to camp, that's saying something.

Junichi Tazawa, who made a handful of starts in 2009, underwent Tommy John surgery last March and is at least a few months away from being cleared to compete in games. Even when Tazawa is ready, he's had little success at the big league level and is far from a proven commodity.

Even Brandon Duckworth, who has 23 major league wins to his credit across eight seasons with three different teams, has been slowed by a weak shoulder. It's unlikely that Duckworth would have been a factor in the early part of the season anyway, but his shoulder issues will have him behind the schedule of others.

In the past, the Red Sox have attempted to bolster their depth by signing rehabbing veterans -- with admittedly mixed results -- such as Brad Penny and John Smoltz. But the club's established five-man rotation has a tendency to scare off prospective free agents looking for opportunities.

The Yankees, as an example, have Freddy Garcia, Colon and others on make-good deals precisely because they have just three spots in their major league rotation set.

The Sox can be thankful that their rotation is much more solidified, but it's surely not a good sign that, even before March 1, there are cracks in the already thin group of reserve options.

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

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