THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

Problem with Penny is hammered home

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / August 22, 2009

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Penny for your thoughts. Penny Hardaway. Penny Marshall. Three-penny opera. Penny wise, pound foolish. Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes.

Brad Penny.

Enough. No need to pile on the guy. Brad Penny is, after all, almost a .500 pitcher (7-8). He appears to be a nice guy and he tries hard. He was a worthwhile reclamation project in Theo’s 2008-09 winter scrap heap scan.

But how can the Red Sox send him back out there?

Penny has won one of his last 11 starts. And that’s while pitching for a team that is 17 games over .500 and has a pretty strong bullpen.

Penny was tattooed for 10 hits and eight earned runs in four-plus innings during last night’s 20-11 embarrassment against the Yankees.

What a beating. It was the highest-scoring game in the 109-year history of the rivalry.

Penny had us begging for the return of John Smoltz.

Or John Wasdin.

As in way back.

When it was over, Terry Francona sounded much like he did two weeks ago after Smoltz’s farewell concert in the new Yankee Stadium. Asked if the team might consider pulling Penny from the rotation (rehabbing Tim Wakefield could replace Penny next Wednesday against the White Sox), the manager said, “We’re always evaluating. I’d rather not do that tonight, 10 minutes after the game. Obviously, there are some things we need to talk about.’’

We could be generous and mention that the 2009 Yankees are death on any righty without hellacious stuff. Last night’s Pinstripe lineup was fitted with seven lefty batters, including four switch-hitters. The two righties (Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez) have Hall of Fame credentials. This means you are in for a long night unless you throw 98 miles per hour or locate very well. Penny does neither. He gives up too much of the dish.

“They have a great team,’’ Penny acknowledged. “One through nine, they can do some damage.’’

Which doesn’t give anyone a good feeling about Junichi Tazawa’s chances today. It seems like a lot to ask this kid to stop the bleeding.

Remember those sweet-music days of too many Red Sox starters? Feels like “What would we do with Willie McGee?’’

In the old days (April), the Sox had seven reliable starting pitchers. Maybe eight. Maybe nine. Boston’s rotation was so deep the Sox could afford to keep Clay “No-Hit’’ Buchholz down on the farm.

But Dice-K emptied his bullets for his motherland in the World Baseball Classic. Then Wakefield got hurt, like a lot of 43-year-old men who try to play professional sports. Then Smoltz stepped up and took one beating after another.

Smoltz’s Red Sox career ended in a hail of line drives at Yankee Stadium and Penny’s time in the rotation might be over as well. He’s unlikely to be released like Smoltz, but you wonder how much more the Sox and their fans can take.

Penny did not hide last night. He was every bit the stand-up guy after this beating.

“I wasn’t commanding the ball tonight,’’ he explained.

Any need for a change?

“Not really,’’ he answered. “I’m healthy. I’ll turn it around. It’s not my call. I’m just gonna go out there and pitch.’’

What about one win in 11 starts?

“That happens. I’ve played long enough to understand the game. You just keep going. My stuff is there. I feel pretty good. I just had a bad night.’’

No one is thinking about first place anymore. The Yankees have won 15 of 18, including five straight against the Sox, and take a 7 1/2-game lead into this afternoon’s game.

The 2009 season is now about survival for your Red Sox. Can they outlast the Rangers and Rays in the battle for the fourth and final American League playoff spot? It’s going to be rough sailing any time the Sox face a team that still cares (which excludes those pathetic cousins in Baltimore and Toronto).

Survival will be difficult if they keep trotting Penny out to the slab.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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