The Fenway Park crowd booed Byung Hyun Kim as he shuffled off the mound with one out in the fourth inning after walking Lou Merloni to load the bases in a 4-4 game. The embattled young Red Sox pitcher simply looked down as he made his way to the dugout. Boston has not embraced Kim. It is unlikely that fans have forgotten the obscene gesture he made to them late last season. Presumably, that memory will be dimmed only if he starts turning in dominating performances.
At the moment, he is not; in fact, he is seen as the weak link in the rotation.
Last night's 10-6 loss to the Indians prompted a 20-minute discussion between Terry Francona and Kim, during which the manager did what the masses thought he should do: He demoted Kim to the bullpen and brought back Bronson Arroyo as the fifth starter.
"I think he feels bad," Francona said. "Not bad because he's out of the rotation. He understands what we're trying to do. And I think he understands we have his interest at heart.
"Right now, it's just not working starting. I don't think it's fair to him or us. So we're going to make a change for now."
Kim was not available for comment after Francona's announcement, but the manager clearly was concerned about the way things have gone the past two days, with Kim and Derek Lowe getting roughed up. Lowe, too, has struggled mightily in his last two starts, but he has a resume of success that the fans and the team can reference in tough times. Right now, fans and team management do not associate good pitching with Kim.
After spending most of spring training and the first 19 games of the regular season on the disabled list, Kim was inserted into the rotation, ostensibly without earning it; that banished Arroyo, who had pitched well in Kim's absence, to the bullpen.
Francona said there always had been a plan for Kim and the Sox were intent on executing it, even if it meant tossing Arroyo back to the pen. It was a bold decision, one made by a team with a strong pitching staff. Usually, if a pitcher is performing well, he stays in the rotation until he begins to falter. Ride the hot hand, so to speak.
It wasn't as if a Curt Schilling were returning from the DL. Granted, the Red Sox committed decent money -- $10 million for two years -- to Kim, and did so with the idea that he would be a starter, which has been Kim's wish since he joined the Sox following the trade with Arizona.
After a very good first start -- five scoreless, one-hit innings in a 4-0 win over Tampa Bay April 29 -- Kim has been unable to get out of the fourth inning in his last two.
Last night, said Francona, "He was very deep into counts. He's not locating. He's throwing a lot of pitches per hitter. They're getting a lot of looks."
Also of concern was that Kim's velocity was only in the mid-80s, and he was pounded pretty hard.
The Indians pummeled Kim in his 3 1/3 innings. There were five hits (four doubles). There were three walks. One hit batter. In the second inning, we saw the rare two-run passed ball. It looked as if catcher Jason Varitek was completely crossed up by what Kim threw.
"Very costly," said Francona.
If there's a bright side, it's that Kim is the fifth starter. He's better than Yankees counterpart Donovan Osborne, isn't he? When you look at it that way, Kim's performance was tolerable. The Red Sox are also in the "soft" part of their schedule, where they should be picking up ground on their rivals. But after Schilling's sizzling complete game against the Royals Saturday, the last two starts have been lousy, against the 9-21 Royals and the 13-18 Tribe.
But the Sox have a dependable option in Arroyo, and they have decided to exercise it.
"If I had my choice, I'd rather be in the rotation," Arroyo said after hearing the news. "Hopefully I'll still have my rhythm when I come back. I should be just as much in shape as I was coming out of spring training."
In hindsight, Arroyo never should have lost his job. Now the Sox are asking him to do what he should have been doing all along: pick up the team on Day 5 of the rotation.