By Sean McAdam
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla -- Friday morning, responding to a question about Alfredo Aceves and Tim Wakefield, Red Sox manager Terry Francona made a reference to some "tough decisions'' the team will have to make to cut down to 25 players for Opening Day.
That, in turn, quickly led to speculation that Wakefield, by far the longest-tenured Red Sox player and the oldest player in baseball, could have his roster spot in jeopardy.
And when Wakefield followed that runaway speculation with a poor outing Friday night against the Tampa Bay Rays -- three innings, six runs allowed, four homers given up -- the speculation gained further monentum.
However, two club sources said Friday that Wakefield's spot in the Boston bullpen was safe, especially given the team's lack of starting pitching depth.
Wakefield, too, though unhappy with his start, showed no evidence that he was worried about making the team. Asked about the significance of a rough start at this point in his career, Wakefield responded evenly: "Nothing. I was just trying to get my pitch count up. I would have liked to do it in more than three innings, but it didn't happen that way.''
In explaining the homer barrage, Wakefield blamed poor mechanics.
"I was rushing to the plate a little bit and left some balls up,'' he said. "In the second inning, I got two outs. Then, I came out of my delivery and left the ball up and couldn't rebound after that...You want to pitch well, obviously, but my biggest concern is staying healthy all spring, building my innings up and getting ready to pitch when April comes around.''
Wakefield, who came into the outing with a 2.70 ERA in three previous appearances, said his mechanics previously been fine this spring.
"Absolutely...absolutely,'' he said. "I feel like I've been throwing the ball very, very well...better than some springs in the past. Until today...I knew what I was doing wrong, I just couldn't stop it. I wasn't staying back long enough.''
Wakefield has made no secret of the fact that he would prefer to start rather than relieve. But even in his role as the team's long man in the bullpen, he could prove valuable since the team has a lack of other options beyond the starting five of Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Even last year, when Wakefield was bumped from the rotation when Matsuzaka came off the disabled list on May 1, Wakefield still got 15 starts over the remainder of the season.
"Yeah, I think so,'' said Wakefield. "I don't have a problem doing whatever. I don't think past tomorrow, to be honest with you. Whenever I'm called upon to try to get outs, whether it's in relief or as a starter, I"ll do my best when asked.
"I can't think about (the fact that) I'm going to get 20 starts this year for sure. There's no guarantees. I'm just trying to get myself prepared for Opening Day and see what happens after that.''
With Felix Doubront (elbow soreness) and Junichi Tazawa (recovering from Tommy John surgery 11 months ago), the Sox are thin in emergency starters beyond Wakefield and Aceves.
"That's always been in that bag,'' said bench coach DeMarlo Hale of Wakefield's versatility, "knowing that you can go to him if one of the starters happens to go down for a DL stint. He's pitched long enough as far as the preparation he goes through. He knows what it takes.
"When you go into the season, knowing that you have that versatility, there's a little comfort that comes with that. Hopefully, we don't have injuries. But at this level and in this business, you have to be aware of things happening and have other options. We know what he's capable of. He knows what it takes to win and he will do what it takes to help the team win. It's good to have him back there if something happens, trust me.''