Sox get Millwood, Morales in flurry of moves

Sox get Millwood, Morales in flurry of moves
May 20, 2011, 2:09 am
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By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- The game itself -- featuring a blown two-run lead in the top of the eighth, followed in short order by a walkoffrally in the bottom of the ninth -- was crazy enough.

But in the aftermath the 4-3 Red Sox' victory, their sixth straight -- and third straight secured in their final at-bat -- things got really chaotic.

It was then that the Red Sox:

Confirmed the signing of veteran pitcher Kevin Millwood to a minor-league deal.

Announced the acquisition of lefty reliever Franklin Morales from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for a player to be named later or cash.

Designated left-hander Hideki Okajima for assignment to clear space for Morales on the 40-man roster.

Prepared to make two more roster moves Friday before the start of a weekend interleague series with the Chicago Cubs, one of which will involve sending shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias back to Pawtucket.

Millwood will report to the team's spring training facility in Fort Myers, Fla., with an eye toward providing additional starting depth for a team which earlier this week placed two starters -- John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka -- on the disabled list.

Last month, Millwood pitched in the New York Yankees' system with mixed results (a 4.50 ERA in three minor league starts), but opted out of his deal May 1 when the Yankees didn't promote him to the big-league roster.

Should he join the Red Sox, Millwood is scheduled to make 500,000 plus additional performance bonuses.

Millwood last pitched in the big leagues in 2010, when he went 4-16 with a 5.10 ERA.

Of more long-term interest to the Red Sox is Morales, who only a few seasons ago was regarded as one of the top young pitching prospects in the game.

As a 21-year old, Morales was tagged by the Sox for seven runs in two-thirds of an inning in Game 1 of the 2007 World Series. He later tossed 2 13 innings of scoreless relief in Game 3.

In 102 games -- mostly as a reliever -- over five seasons, Morales is 7-11 with a 4.83 ERA. He's averaged more than a strikeout per inning in 2009, but has also had difficulty commanding his pitches, resulting in a 5.3 walks-per-nine-innings ratio.

"The key is to get him to repeat his delivery and throw strikes," said general manager Theo Epstein. "He's tough to hit. He's a very hard thrower. When he throws strikes, he's hard to hit. He's been a little erratic with his strike-throwing, but I think there's a chance to capture some upside there. He makes some sense for us."

Morales will team with Rich Hill to give the Sox two lefties in the bullpen.

The Sox have 10 days to trade, release or place Okajima on waivers.

His salary of 1.75 million may make him difficult to move, as teams generally prefer more inexpensive costs at the set-up and middle-inning roles.

Should the Sox not find a deal for him, it's possible that Okajima's salary would preclude him from being claimed on waivers. If Okajima clears waivers, he could remain in the organization. He began the year at Pawtucket before being recalled in mid-April.

Okajima, 35, was 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA in seven games with the Sox this season, his fifth in Boston. In his first three years with the Sox, he averaged 66 appearances and was a key member of the bullpen.

But injuries and ineffectiveness reduced his role in 2010 and it was a surprise to many when, after non-tendering him last fall, the Sox chose to re-sign him in January.

Okajima was warming in the bullpen in the ninth inning and would have pitched the 10th inning Thursday night had not the Sox won the game in the bottom of the ninth.

"It's my first time in this situation," said Okajima through a club interpreter, "so I'm not sure of what happens next . . . Having re-signed with Boston during the offseason, it is disappointing that this is happening, but signing here was not a mistake. I am very grateful to the opportunity the Red Sox have given me over five years."

Finally, the Sox will make two most roster moves Friday: shortstop Jose Iglesias will be optioned to Pawtucket and replaced on the Boston roster by utility man Drew Sutton; also, Dan Wheeler will end his minor-league rehab assignment and be activated, with Michael Bowden, promoted from Pawtucket Tuesday, being returned to Triple A.

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