By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
For the past few days, the approaching off-day on the schedule was, predictably, a hot topic of conversation in the Red Sox clubhouse.
Some players planned golf outings, others visits with family in the area. But for manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Curt Young, what was so enticing about the off-day was the promise of rest for the club's pitching staff.
The break Thursday comes after a stretch of 20 straight game days, the maximum allowed by the collective bargaining agreement and, coupled with another off-day Monday, offers a chance to regroup.
Of late, the staff has been stretched at both ends. Andrew Miller, recently transferred to the bullpen, was unable to pitch past the sixth inning in any of his eight starts. Newcomer Erik Bedard, meanwhile, came to the Sox fresh off the disabled list, meaning he was on a pitch count in each of first two starts.
With 40 percent of the rotation either unable or not cleared to pitch deep into games, the burden has fallen on the bullpen.
Wednesday night, Francona did not have his two best relievers at his disposal. Closer Jonathan Papelbon had pitched in the three previous three games while set-up man Daniel Bard had worked three of the previous four.
Instead, Francona had Alfredo Aceves take over when Jon Lester tired in the eighth. Aceves faced five hitters and four of them reached.
For Aceves, it was his second straight rough outing; he failed to protect a one-run lead in the series opener Monday and though the Red Sox came back to win that night, Aceves cost Tim Wakefield the lead.
Another of the bullpen's pleasant surprises, Matt Albers, has endured another patch of rough appearances, suggesting fatigue. After going the entire month of July without allowing a run -- earned or otherwise -- Albers has been scored upon in three of his four outings in August.
Of late, Miller has given the team another stretched-out option in the bullpen, but his inability to consistently command the strike zone makes him a risky proposition with games on the line.
Things should soon improve. Two off-days in the span of five days will provide an extra day -- or two, in some cases -- of rest for starters just now hitting the late-summer wall, while providing down time for the team's beleaguered relievers.
By the time the Sox finish this current stretch of 14 road games in the span of 17 games, Sept. 1 will be near with the prospect of an expanded roster to help lighten the workload.
In the short-term, the prospect of two off-days is both overdue and welcome.