Some of the names remain Red Sox property -- Kason Gabbard, Devern Hansack, Kyle Snyder, David Pauley -- and some are long gone from the organization. (Anyone want to recall the notable tenure of Jason Johnson or Kevin Jarvis?) But as in nearly any organization in nearly any season, at least a few spot starts will be needed. The Sox hope there won't be many more than that, as has been the case with the Yankees this season.
With Boston's candidates for spot starting -- such as Hansack, who is scheduled to pitch the second game of today's doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves -- the confidence level has steadily increased. The pitchers are one year older, have more experience, and -- perhaps most important -- have one year's greater familiarity with the organization, the system, their teammates.
"We do feel better," manager Terry Francona said of the options he has this season as opposed to last. "You never know when these things arise. You can go from being so healthy to like three days later being nicked up, beat up -- not necessarily all DL guys, but needing some help. I think we're pretty comfortable where we're going. It doesn't ensure they're going to pitch a complete-game shutout, but we're OK with Devern starting a game. I think it'll be fun to watch and we think he'll do just fine."
Not that many want to see spot starters in the rotation for long.
With Josh Beckett on the 15-day disabled list, scheduled to miss two starts with an avulsion on his right middle finger, Hansack was called up from Pawtucket to start last night's game, which was postponed by rain. It will be made up as the second game of a split-admission doubleheader. Gabbard appears the likely choice to make tomorrow's start, vacated when Tim Wakefield was pushed back to pitch Monday in Yankee Stadium. (Gabbard was not listed in the PawSox' rotation for any of the team's following four games as of Thursday afternoon.)
Beyond Wakefield's outing Monday, Francona declined to line up his other two starters for the Yankees series. Curt Schilling and Julian Tavarez will pitch the Tuesday and Wednesday games, though no order has been set. The Sox are off Thursday before heading to Texas, so the rotation should be recovered from the doubleheaders by then.
Having a small set of dependable spot starters in the minor leagues (and suffering few injuries, of course) would enable the Sox to avoid the disaster that became their starting rotation last season, when a whopping 14 pitchers started at least one game. That list, for those who have forgotten or blocked it from their memories, included Beckett (33), Schilling (31), Wakefield (23), Jon Lester (15), Matt Clement (12), Snyder (10), David Wells (8), Lenny DiNardo (6), Johnson (6), Tavarez (6), Gabbard (4), Jarvis (3), Pauley (3), and Hansack (2).
It's especially helpful that the pitchers being called upon have been with the organization for a significant time. They have learned in spring training and in the minors what the team wants and how it goes about things.
"The throwovers, the first-and-third plays, knowing the catcher, this is not something new they have to learn on the day that they're starting a major league game," Francona said. "They're already familiar with those things, we're familiar with them and how they do things, and it certainly should help. It allows them to go pitch their game."
Adding that minor league experience, especially for pitchers such as Hansack and Gabbard, to the six major league starts the pair made last season can only help them. ("We don't develop pitchers here to stay in Pawtucket, we develop pitchers to go pitch in Boston and help them win a World Series or get to the playoffs, and that's our battle cry," Pawtucket pitching coach Mike Griffin said Thursday.) It won't make them suddenly morph into Beckett, but it certainly is a positive.
"If that was me, I would feel better knowing the surroundings, knowing the people you're throwing to, knowing that you can get major league hitters out," Francona said. "Even if it's a small sample size, I'm sure it's got to help. Being there and doing it always helps."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.