McAdam: Problems right at the start

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McAdam: Problems right at the start

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- Remember when everyone thought the Red Sox' primary problem was producing with runners in scoring position?

Seems almost quaint now.

Actually, as was painfully obvious Monday night, the real issue is starting pitching.

Daisuke Matsuzaka's stinker Monday night against the Tampa Bay Rays would seem to validate that. Matsuzaka labored through the first two innings, couldn't retire a hitter in the third, and was gone after allowing seven runs on eight hits. The same Rays who had scored just 11 runs in eight previous losses topped that figure last night by the sixth.

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Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon stacked his lineup with left-hander hitters -- between nautral lefties and switch-hitters, he had just one right-hander, B.J. Upton, in his batting order -- in the hopes of gaining an edge on Matsuzaka.

But left, right . . . it didn't seem to matter.

"We love when guys throw strikes," rued Terry Francona. "But there were balls that were middle-middle for seven straight hitters."

The evening constituted Matsuzaka's shortest start since April 14, 2009 in Oakland, after which, it's worth mentioning, he was placed on the disabled list because of shoulder weakness.

(For the record, Francona insisted that Matsuzaka is healthy and there are no physical issues.)

The beating eliminated any hint of momentum the Red Sox had gained the night before with Josh Beckett's brilliant effort against the Yankees. Suddenly, the Sox' first series win of the season seemed very long ago.

And that's the issue with the team's poor starting pitching. Without solid outings from the rotation, a winning streak -- or a stretch in which the Sox make forward progress -- seems almost unimaginable.

Momentum is the next day's starting pitcher, goes one of baseball's oldest bromides. But for now, momentum for the Red Sox is non-existent.

After two full turns through the starting rotation, they have exactly two quality starts. Their collective starters' ERA sits at 7.24; take away Beckett's effort Sunday against New York and Lester's all-for-naught effort in the road trip finale in Cleveland, and the starters' ERA soars to 10.25.

The offense still hasn't righted itself completely, either. On Monday night the team stranded 11 more baserunners, bringing their total in the last two games to a staggering 27. The Sox continue to hit below .200 with runners in scoring position.

But in 10 games so far, the Sox have scored five runs three times and still lost. In precisely half the games, they've managed four or more runs -- and lost, anyway.

On Monday night, the frustration was evident in the clubhouse after the eighth loss in 10 tries. Matsuzaka sat, still in uniform, staring into his locker for nearly 25 minutes after the loss, seemingly shell-shocked, invoking memories of a similar postgame meltdown following a poor outing in the 2007 ALCS against Cleveland in his first season with the Sox.

Per usual, he offered precious little insight about his failings, speaking only in the most obvious platitudes.

The inability of the team's starters to get into the middle innings on a consisent basis seemed to be wearing on others, too. Dustin Pedroia, normally one of the club's most upbeat members, looked over his shoulder as a crowd of reporters approached and said: "I've got nothing to say, guys."

And indeed, the Sox look lost.

There seems little doubt that the lineup, projected as one of the game's most fearsome, is coming around. Two slumping regulars provided clues that they're about to break out: Kevin Youkilis doubled in his final at-bat, one plate apperance after he had hit hit a vicious line drive which resulted in a double play, and Carl Crawford, matched against his former team, had a two-hit game.

But no such signs are visible for the rotation. Both Matsuzaka and John Lackey have been pasted in their two starts, and newly-extended Clay Buchholz,while not quite as bad, has also been hit hard both times.

Two quality starts in 10 tries is not going to lift the Sox from the division's basement.

For now, expect no drastic shakeups in the rotation. The Sox must hope that Matsuzaka can correct his issues on the side and keep his team in the game more times than not -- a modest enough goal, to be sure, but reasonable for a No. 5 starter, regardless of international pedigree and salary.

There are options beyond Matsuzaka, including Alfredo Aceves, who turned in 2 23 innings of hitless relief, and more intriguingly, Felix Doubront, whose spring was interruped with elbow tightness.

But once the Sox yank Matsuzaka from the rotation, he becomes dead weight. It's hard to envision him being productive out of the bullpen.

And yet, surely, the Sox can't let this continue for much longer. While the Yankees' lineup has bailed out some below-average starts from their equally uncertain rotation, the Red Sox haven't had that luxury.

Even if the hitters begin producing as expected, the season is too long to fully rely on one component to continually compensate for the failings of another.

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

White Sox suspend Chris Sale over uniform flap

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White Sox suspend Chris Sale over uniform flap

CHICAGO - The Chicago White Sox were set to wear throwback uniforms. Chris Sale had other ideas.

The White Sox suspended their ace five days without pay for destroying collared throwback uniforms the team was scheduled to wear.

The team announced the punishment on Sunday after Sale was scratched from his scheduled start and sent home the previous night.

The suspension comes to $250,000 of his $9.15 million salary. He was also fined about $12,700 - the cost of the destroyed jerseys - according to a person familiar with the penalty. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because no statements were authorized.

"Obviously we're all extremely disappointed that we have to deal with this issue at this time both from the standpoint of the club as well as Chris' perspective," general manager Rick Hahn said. "It's unfortunate that it has become this level of an issue and potential distraction taking away from what we're trying to accomplish on the field."

Sale was not expected at the ballpark on Sunday. He is eligible to return Thursday against the crosstown Cubs at Wrigley Field, though Hahn would not say if the left-hander would start that game.

The Major League Baseball Players Association declined comment, spokesman Greg Bouris said. Sale could ask the union to file a grievance.

FanRag Sports first reported Sale was protesting the 1976-style jerseys, which were navy and sported unusual collars on a hot and humid night.

Sale then cut up an unknown number of jerseys before the game and was told to leave the stadium. With not enough usable 1976 jerseys available, the White Sox wore white throwback uniforms from the 1983 season.

The incident comes with the White Sox in a tailspin after a 23-10 start and Sale's name circulating in trade rumors.

"The actions or behaviors of the last 24 hours does not change in any aspect, any respect, our belief that Chris Sale can help this club win a championship and win multiple championships," Hahn said. "It does not move the needle one iota in terms of his value to this club, his value to any other club that may be interested in his services or the likelihood of him being moved or kept whatsoever. None of that stuff is impacted at all by these events."

The incident does raise some questions in general about throwback uniforms, how players feel about them and whether they should be forced to wear jerseys that aren't comfortable - particularly starting pitchers.

"If I'm playing with Chris Sale I want him to pitch," Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez said. "If he wants to play with no shirt, we play with no shirt. I just want him to pitch."

New York Yankees pitcher Chasen Shreve said: "Pitchers like their stuff. Me, it doesn't bother me, but for him, obviously it does. It's crazy. I don't think I'm that bad."

White Sox pitcher James Shields wouldn't comment on whether players should be made to wear throwback jerseys. But he did say: "I don't really mind the throwbacks. I haven't had any issues with that."

Manager Robin Ventura said players occasionally wearing uniforms they don't like comes with the job.

"But you wear it," he said. "If you want to rip it after, you can rip it up after. I've seen guys rip it up after."

Hahn said throwback uniforms the White Sox wore last season were a bit baggy so the team took measurements in spring training so they would fit the players better. He also mentioned the money the uniforms generate.

"Part of the element of being in position to win a championship is the revenue side of the operation and respect for their reasonable requests to increase revenue," Hahn said.

This wasn't the first flare-up involving the 27-year-old Sale, who is known for his competitive streak and strict training regimen.

He was openly critical of team executive Ken Williams during spring training when he said Drake LaRoche, the son of teammate Adam LaRoche, would no longer be allowed in the clubhouse. Adam LaRoche retired as a result, and Sale hung the LaRoches' jerseys in his locker.

He was also suspended five games by Major League Baseball last season for his role in a brawl at Kansas City that started with a flare-up between teammate Adam Eaton and the Royals' Yordano Ventura. Sale went to the Royals clubhouse after he got tossed and was seen pounding on the door.

Hahn said the punishment was unrelated to previous incidents. He also said the two had a "very candid" meeting in his office with Sale after the pitcher had some exchanges with staff members in the clubhouse and that both "expressed remorse." They spoke again on Sunday.

"At that point last night Chris stood by his actions," Hahn said. "Part of what makes Chris great, part of what makes him elite, is his passion and commitment. We've seen that sometimes spill out from between the white lines. Yesterday was one of those instances and it unfortunately led to events that required discipline."