McAdam: Sox will miss Hill, not Dice-K

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McAdam: Sox will miss Hill, not Dice-K

By SeanMcAdam
CSNNE.com

One pitcher grew up half a world away, the other just miles from Fenway Park.

One was the object of an unprecedented bidding war, the other signed for less than double the major-league minimum salary.

One threw a dizzying array of pitches, the other spent the past two seasons experimenting with various arm angles.

One is right-handed, the other lefty.

Yet, for all their differences, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Rich Hill are the same in ways they surely don't wish: both seem headed for season-ending -- and potentially career-threatening Tommy John surgery.

Dr. M. explains Tommy John surgery

And here's the irony: despite the fact that the Red Sox paid 103 million for Matsuzaka and just 700,000 for Hill, it's Hill whom they'll miss the most.

Matsuzaka may have attracted the most attention, arriving with great fanfare and a mythical pitch (gyro ball), and he may have won 33 games in his first two seasons with the Sox, 11 more than Hill has over parts of seven big-league seasons.

But in 2011, it was Hill who held much greater value to the Red Sox and whose absence will be far more difficult to replace.

No matter what they had invested in him, financially and otherwise, Matsuzaka remained an enigma, seemingly unable to win with any consistency. Since the start of 2009, in 44 starts -- roughly the equivalent of a season-and-a-third -- Matsuzaka was 16-15 with a 5.03 ERA.

This year, he was as unpredictable as ever. In back-to-back starts in April, he teased the Red Sox with one-hitters. But as dominant as he was in those two outings, his ERA for the season was 5.30 -- about a run higher than the American League average.

Money and reputation aside, Matsuzaka had devloved into a back-of-the-rotation starter -- and not a very durable one at that.

In the eight games that Matsuzaka started for them this season, the Red Sox were 4-4; with others starting, they are at least (nominally) over .500 at 26-22.

And though neither Tim Wakefield nor Alfredo Aceves are necessarily long-term solutions to the Red Sox rotation, they've consistently given the Sox a chance to win games. In seven starts combined, the pair have twice allowed five or more runs; in Matsuzaka's eight starts before his trip to the DL, he also allowed five or more runs twice.

For the time being, the Red Sox plan to use either Wakefield or Aceves in place of Matsuzaka. In time, they could call upon Felix Doubront (fresh off a DL stint of his own at Pawtucket) or perhaps even Kevin Millwood.

But they're not about to venture into the trade market to replace Matsuzaka, thanks to the prohibitive cost of obtaining pitching help and, frankly, because it shouldn't be difficult to match what Matsuzaka was giving them with their many internal candidates.

Hill, however, is another story.

Even after walking off the mound and out of the game Wednesday afternoon following a walk to Adam Dunn, Hill had not given up a run in eight appearances this season. In fact, dating back to his late-season callup last September, Hill was, improbably, unscored upon in his Red Sox career, throwing nothing but blanks over 15 appearances, covering 12 innings.

If quality starting pitching is difficult to find, it's downright bountiful when compared to effective left-handed relievers like Hill.

Consider that the Red Sox had a handful of lefty relievers in camp this spring, including Hill and journeyman Dennys Reyes.

Reyes made the Opening Day roster, then pitched so poorly that the Red Sox found a reason to place him on the DL before they even returned home from their season-opening road trip.

Hill, on the other hand, was showing signs of beginning to master his role. A starter earlier in his career, Hill transitioned to the bullpen after shoulder surgery in 2009.

This year, he held opposing lefty hitters to a single hit in 14 at-bats with seven strikeouts and just two walks. But Hill was also getting righties out, allowing just two hits in 12 at-bats (.167 BAA).

Had Hill remained healthy, he might have resulted in another option for the seventh or eighth innings -- beyond his usual duties as a situational left-hander.

The Sox don't have anyone like him in their system. Even in his first few seasons with the Sox, Hideki Okajima wasn't particularly effective against lefties, and the Sox thought so little of him two weeks ago that they designed him for assignment.

Doubront could conceivably help out in the short-run, but long-term his future is as a starter.

By their own admission, the Sox got lucky with Hill. He chose to opt-out of a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals organization last summer for the chance to pitch for his hometown team. As a free agent, non-tendered by the Sox last winter, he turned down offers from other interested clubs to accept a minor-league, make-good deal with the Sox. And after experimenting with a number of sidearm release points, he found one this spring that worked.

Now, he's gone for the remainder of this season and parts of next. And putting aside his modest salary and the little fanfare he attracted, his loss is far greater to the Red Sox than the internationally known pitcher with whom he's now linked, both felled by the same injury, different as can be but united in their fate.

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

First impressions: Red Sox get to Yankees bullpen

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First impressions: Red Sox get to Yankees bullpen

First Impressions from the Red Sox' 8-7 victory over the Yankees.

 

All of a sudden, David Price is having issues at Fenway.

When the Sox signed Price last December, they cited his past

success in their home ballpark (1.95 ERA) as evidence that he could thrive here. But six starts into his Red Sox career, his three worst starts have come here. He's pitched 22 2/3 innings and allowed 21 earned runs.

Even stranger is that so much damage was done by Alex Rodriguez, who previously had compiled a .237 career average against Price with just one homer in 57 at-bats.

 

It's highly unusual for John Farrell to go to the mound and not take the starting pitcher out.

But that's what happened in the top of the seventh. David Price was in the mid-90s with his pitch count and Rodriguez -- who had homered and doubled off Price in his previous two at-bats -- was due. It seemed obvious that Price was coming out of the game.

Instead, Price was left in and grounded out to second to end the inning. It says something about Farrell's trust in Price - or Price's powers of persuasion -- that the lefty stayed in the game.

 

Credit Travis Shaw with making some in-game adjustments.

In his first two at-bats against New York starter Nathan Eovaldi, Shaw struck out twice. Both times, Eovaldi started him off with a curve ball.

But when Eovaldi tried it again in the fifth, Shaw hammered the pitch deep into the right field seats for a two-run homer.

 

The Red Sox bullpen far outshone that of the Yankees in this series.

In the three games just played, Boston relievers tossed seven shutout innings in the series, while Yankees' righthander Dellin Betances twice yielded two-run homers to cost the Yanks both games.

 

Dustin Pedroia insists he's not focusing on hitting the ball the other way, but the results suggest otherwise.

Pedroia banged out three singles Sunday night and all three were hit to right. On the current homestand, Pedroia has a total of eight hits; five were hit to right field.

 

Farrell on Sox rotation: 'We've got to get Clay going'

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Farrell on Sox rotation: 'We've got to get Clay going'

BOSTON - Maybe it wasn't a warning shot, but more of an idle observation. Maybe it wasn't a challenge at all.

But what John Farrell had to say Sunday afternoon about Clay Buchholz was, if nothing else, noteworthy.

In assessing his team's play in the just-completed first month of the season, Farrell noted that the starting rotation, after a particularly rough beginning, had stabilized of late.

With one exception, that is.

"We've got to get Clay going, particularly," Farrell said. "He's an important part of our rotation, an important part of this team. We've got to get him on track." Buchholz is winless in his five starts, with an 0-3 mark and an inflated ERA of 6.51. He's given up a minimum of five earned runs in each start and has yet to pitch through the seventh inning.

Farrell noted that the issue has been less about quality of stuff and more about his aggressiveness - or lack thereof.

"There are times,'' Farrell said, "when we've seen Clay execute pitches with, I think, a greater conviction to the pitch. There are other times where maybe he's pitched away from contact a little bit too much and not attacked the strike zone. To me, there comes an attitude on the mound that's got to be prevailing."

The Sox aren't far from welcoming back to starters. Eduardo Rodriguez, who tweaked his knee in early March, is set to make his second rehab start for Pawtucket Tuesday and could conceivably return five days after that. At most, Rodriguez will be ready with one more additional outing.

Next up is Joe Kelly, who is on the DL with a shoulder impingement. Kelly has thrown some bullpen sessions and could begin a rehab assignment later in the week.

That will lead to the Sox making some tough decisions in the coming weeks. It had been widely assumed that knuckleballer Steven Wright would be he most vulnerable starter, but Wright is 2-2 with a 1.37 ERA in four outings.

Asked to assess where the Sox within the context of the division, Farrell said: "We're probably searching to shore up areas that are in need, and that first starts with making the necessary adjustments with the guys that are on our roster now. Not that we're going to make wholesale changes. Like I said, we've got to get Clay going. That's a big improvement that we could make."