McAdam: Painful memories are returning

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McAdam: Painful memories are returning

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- It was June of last season when the injuries began to wash over the Red Sox like a tsunami, one position player after another felled.

In a matter of weeks, the Red Sox lost Dustin Pedroia and Victor Martinez to a growing list of players on the DL, joining Jacoby Ellsbury. Soon, Mike Cameron, Jason Varitek and Kevin Youkilis joined them, consigning the Red Sox to a third-place finish and a DNQ for the postseason.

Now, a quarter way through 2011, the injuries are hitting again, only this time, it's the pitching staff that is being struck. In the span of 24 hours, two starting pitchers were placed on the disabled list. First came John Lackey with a tender elbow; Tuesday night, Daisuke Matsuzaka joined him with the same malady.

It could be worse, of course. The top three starters -- Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz, who have pitched to a collective 2.97 ERA -- are healthy.

And given that Lackey (8.01) has struggled mightily and Matsuzaka (5.30) nearly as much recently, the temptation is to suggest that these losses are, in the big picture, hardly significant.

But that ignores the fact that injuries to a pitching staff have a domino-like effect. In filling Lackey and Matsuzaka's spots in the rotation with two members of the bullpen -- Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves -- the Sox are depleting their relief depth, a fact that shouldn't be underestimated.

Aceves had been providing valuable innings out of the bullpen, particularly in the absence of Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenks, who themselves are still on the DL. With Aceves shifted into the rotation, the Sox will now have to designate someone else to handle the seventh inning - or eighth, on nights in which Daniel Bard is unavailable. Matt Albers, another veteran who has quietly surpassed expectations, is the likely choice.

(How widespread have the pitching injuries been? Of the 12 pitchers who constituted the pitching staff which opened the season with the club on April 1, five -- or nearly 50 percent -- have now spent time on the DL: Matsuzaka, Lackey, Wheeler, Jenks and Dennys Reyes, the latter of whom has since been re-assigned to the minor leagues.)

It doesn't help that the rash of pitching injuries have struck at a time when the Sox are in the middle of a stretch of the schedule which finds them without an off-day until June 2. That, more than the wet conditions, may explain the decision Tuesday to postpone the final game of the mini-series with the Baltimore Orioles.

It's uncertain what the Red Sox will get from their plug-in starters. In two spot starts to date, Wakefield threw one gem -- matching Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez pitch-for-pitch on May 1 -- and another that was far more ordinary (six earned runs in just 4 13 innings against Minnesota on the last homestand). It's likely that Wakefield's starts going forward will fall somewhere in between those two.

As for Aceves, the general consensus is that his stuff plays out better as a starter. He's been terrific in his relief role (just 12 hits allowed in 17 13 innings and a 1.038 WHIP). But Aceves's history suggests that he's brittle, the chief reason the Yankees didn't tender him a contract last fall despite their obvious need for pitching inventory.

In general, the loss of pitching is more crippling than the loss of everyday players, unless that everyday player is, say, Albert Pujols. Most times, as the Red Sox demonstrated throughout most of the summer before the cumulative toll became too great, a team can withstand the loss of a key position player or two.

Pitching is, by defition, tougher to replace since pitchers tend to impact the outcome of a specific game more than any other player on the field. Also, pitching depth is almost always thinner than it is for position players.

It's worth noting that while Wakefield and Aceves are quality fill-in options, they each would have been bypassed for Felix Doubront. Like Yamaico Navarro, however, Doubront picked a costly time to be injured at Pawtucket. Doubront would have been chosen for one of the openings had he not been sidelined by a groin pull, the second nagging injury since spring training.

If there's a silver lining to the spate of starter injuries -- beyond the obvious point that the team's Big Three remain healthy -- it's that Lackey and Matsuzaka, as they were performing of late, shouldn't be hard to replace.

After all, it's not as though they were dominating hitters and routinely taking the Red Sox deep into games. All that's being asked of Wakefield and Aceves for the time being is to keep the Sox in games through the middle innings -- hardly a high standard.

How will the Sox respond over the next few weeks as Matsuzaka and Lackey recover and staff shuffling continues? That's impossible to say.

But because the injuries are taking place just as the team begins to perform as expected (7-2 over the last nine games), it has potential for disruption.

Worse, for a team which weathered a staggering number of injuries at midseason last year, there's the disconcerting notion that this season is starting to resemble, at least somewhat anyway, last.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Former Red Sox prospect Andy Marte killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

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Former Red Sox prospect Andy Marte killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

Former major leaguer Andy Marte, a one-time top prospect in the Red Sox organization, was killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic on Sunday. He was 33.

Marte was killed the same day that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura died in a separate car crash in the Dominican. Ventura was 25. Coincidentally, Ventura was the Royals starting pitcher in Marte's final major league game, for the Arizona Diamondbacks on Aug. 6, 2014.

Marte, drafted by the Braves in 2000, was ranked the No. 9 prospect in baseball in 2005 when the third baseman was traded to the Red Sox as part of the deal that sent shortstop Edgar Renteria to Atlanta and Marte became the top-ranked prospect in the Red Sox organization.  

Marte was traded by the Red Sox to the Indians in 2006 in the deal that sent Coco Crisp to Boston and spent five seasons with Cleveland. His best season was 2009 (.232, six home runs, 25 RBI in 47 games). After a six-game stint with Arizona in 2014, he played in South Korea the past two years.  

Metropolitan traffic authorities in the Dominican told the Associated Press that Marte died when a car he was driving his a house along the highway between San Francisco de Macoris and Pimentel, about 95 miles (150 kilometers) north of the capital.
 

Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

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Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car crash in in the Dominican Republic on Sunday morning, according to multiple reports. Ventura was 25 years old.

Highway patrol spokesman Jacobo Mateo told the Associated Press that Ventura died on a highway leading to the town of Juan Adrian, about 40 miles (70 kilometers) northwest of Santo Domingo. He says it's not clear if Ventura was driving.

Ventura was killed the same day former major leaguer Andy Marte died in a separate car crash in the Dominican. Coincidentally, Ventura was the starting pitcher in Marte's final MLB game, for the Arizona Diamondbacks on Aug. 6, 2014. 

Ventura was 13-8 with a 4.08 ERA for the Royals' 2015 World Series champions and 11-12 with a 4.45 ERA in 32 starts in 2016. The right-hander made his major league debut in 2013 and in 2014 went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA for Kansas City's A.L. pennant winners. 

Ironically, Ventura paid tribute to his good friend and fellow Dominican, Oscar Tavares, who was also killed in a car crash in the D.R. in October 2014, by wearing Tavares' initials and R.I.P. on his cap before Ventura's start in Game 6 of the World Series in 2014. 

Ventura is the second current major league player to die in the past five months. Former Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident in Miami on Sept. 25.