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Castro gives way to Embree in bullpen

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / April 28, 2010

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TORONTO — Fabio Castro’s presence in the Red Sox clubhouse yesterday was hardly a matter of merit. His 8.10 ERA in Triple A was beside the point, though. It was his freshness and his ability to throw multiple innings that mattered, as Castro gave up his start for Pawtucket to sit in the bullpen at Rogers Centre for at least one night.

The Sox bullpen has been devastated, both because the relievers have had to throw far too many innings and because they have hardly succeeded in those innings. With normally dependable relievers — including Hideki Okajima and Ramon Ramirez — off to slow starts, the Sox have fewer arms that they trust and too many innings to fill.

By the end of last night’s 2-1 win over the Jays, Castro had been shipped out, with the Sox set to bring in Alan Embree for tonight’s game. That, plus the eight innings from Clay Buchholz and one from Ramirez, should help.

“I think we’ll have some semblance of order after [last night],’’ manager Terry Francona said. “So we should be OK.’’

Embree has an out in his contract that would have allowed him to leave April 15, but he extended it to Friday. He didn’t need quite that long, after allowing just three runs (all in one outing) for Pawtucket over 7 1/3 innings.

The Sox will still need to make another move with their bullpen before Saturday, when Daisuke Matsuzaka takes a spot in the rotation. But even with the addition of Embree, and having survived last night, the pen remains shaky, with the Sox relying primarily on only two or three pitchers in the early going.

The one-night addition of Castro was because, “We needed some length,’’ Francona said. “We really needed to cover ourselves a little bit in case of an early exit.’’

The manager had said before the game that Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, and Okajima all were unavailable.

Some of the situation “is hand-in-hand with your starting pitching,’’ Francona said. “If you’re getting into your bullpen like we did [Monday night], there’s no way it’s going to be flawless.

“You’re going to guys more than you’re supposed to, they’re facing more hitters than they’re supposed to. The same thing happened [to the Blue Jays]. That’s a tough way to go about it.

“So if you see a couple eight-inning starts, you’ll see the bullpen better, too.’’

Bard and Okajima are tied for the team lead with 11 appearances over the first 20 games, putting them on pace for 89 appearances.

Okajima, though, has thrown only 7 2/3 innings, but Bard has tossed 12 2/3 innings.

That is particularly worrisome with Bard, who pitched in 60 games between the majors and minors last season, throwing 65 1/3 innings.

“The reason that guys get used is because they’re performing,’’ Francona said. “I know Theo [Epstein] has said it a lot of times about signing high-priced bullpen guys. It’s a little bit of a crapshoot.

“That’s why we try to monitor our guys so much, how much they’ve thrown — not just in games, but ups and downs, how many times they’ve gotten hot. Because that can go under the radar, too.

“A guy can not pitch for a couple days but he could have been throwing three or four times in the bullpen and that could be worse.

“Guys talk about wanting to know roles. The quicker we understand where everybody slots in, the better. Now when you have games like [Monday], you have to throw that out and get in survival mode. They know that down there.’’

Lowell adapting
Though Mike Lowell seems extremely uncomfortable with his new role, which includes pinch hitting, it’s something he’s trying to adapt to.

And he came through last night, walking on four pitches to claim the game-winning RBI in the eighth.

As a pinch hitter, Lowell had a .262 career average, .405 slugging percentage, and .703 OPS entering last night, all below the numbers from the rest of his at-bats.

“I don’t know how you get comfortable,’’ he said. “I got loose. I go in a couple innings before, I get stretched out, I do jumping jacks. I’m in the tunnel moving around just in case. I saw two lefties coming up, so I was going to be ready either way. I’ll be ready. It’s just you have one at-bat. It’s 0-1, 1-1, or 0-0, one of the three is going to happen. [Last night] it worked out.’’

It’s a position he’ll find himself in far more this season than he’s used to, having had just 48 plate appearances (including last night’s) as a pinch hitter over a 13-year career.

“I try to put myself in the mode where, ‘OK, this is my fourth at-bat of the day,’ ’’ Lowell said. “Why not?

“To a certain degree, I feel like I have nothing to lose. Seventy percent of the time — actually in my career, 72 percent of the time — I’m going to make an out. I’m not going to stress over it.’’

Mistakes hurt
The day after Josh Beckett was roughed up for eight runs in three-plus innings in what ended up a 13-12 Boston win, there were still few answers for the Sox. Francona maintained that Beckett is not hurt. “If you miss, you want to miss down,’’ Francona said, of pitching to the Jays. “It seemed like every mistake we made was over the plate and middle. They got their arms extended. He didn’t miss down very much. Just wasn’t creating that angle that when he’s going good he’s getting that two-seamer down, then the changeups off of that or the cutter. There were a lot of balls that caught a lot of the plate.’’ Knowing that Beckett has started 2010 with the same 7.22 ERA he had through the first month of the 2009 season might not help Francona’s peace of mind, but there are other factors that do. “I think because he’s Josh Beckett gives me comfort,’’ Francona said. “Because I know him. I know he’s working and I know how accountable he is. I guess that’s what gives me comfort.’’ . . . Mike Cameron (lower abdominal strain) is likely to progress to light running by the end of the week, Francona said. He also went out to hit off the tee yesterday. Cameron said he is expecting to go on a rehab assignment, though there’s no sense of when that might happen. Cameron went on the disabled list April 20, retroactive to April 19, leaving him with another week on it. “Sometimes you have to listen when you push the body,’’ Cameron said. “Now, this is forcing me to actually listen.’’

Relief map?
Tim Wakefield, relegated to the bullpen with Matsuzaka’s return, will not be available to pitch in relief until Friday in Baltimore. He threw a side session yesterday. Francona has not yet discussed how he will use the knuckleballer, though he said yesterday that he’d prefer to use him in a clean inning. Even though it’s likely that Jason Varitek will have to catch Wakefield at some point, Francona said he doesn’t need any dedicated time to get used to the knuckleball again. Varitek has caught Wakefield for only one inning since 2005 . . . Dustin Pedroia stood back-to-back with Castro before yesterday’s game to determine which player was shorter. It was Castro, prompting Pedroia to call the reliever “my favorite of all time.’’ Castro, who is listed at 5 feet 7 inches, was not shorter by much, though.

Peter Abraham of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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