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For now, idea is to hang on with two hands

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By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / May 19, 2011

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Everyone is looking for pitching, so for the Red Sox to think they can solve their sudden shortage with outside help is probably unrealistic, although according to NESN’s Peter Gammons they have offered Kevin Millwood a minor league contract. They will likely have to muddle through with Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves in place of the disabled John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka, who weren’t pitching well anyway.

But this does affect their overall depth. The bullpen is suddenly without Aceves, a valuable piece in that he can pitch multiple innings in close games. Wakefield ate up innings in one-sided games, and that job now falls on someone else.

And while Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenks don’t appear to be far away, neither was pitching well before heading to the disabled list, and their return isn’t necessarily a positive.

The Sox’ situation isn’t unlike a lot of teams’. Everyone seems to have a pitching injury or two, and trying to find a replacement isn’t easy.

With Wakefield and Aceves in the rotation, the depth is pretty much gone. Felix Doubront, who might have been someone in Pawtucket the Sox could turn to, has a groin strain. Andrew Miller may eventually get enough quality starts to come up and at least offer some protection for the staff. The same can be said of Kyle Weiland.

But right now, the Sox are very thin, which will put a lot of pressure on the bullpen — and on the offense to score a lot.

The Sox are in hang-in mode. Hang in until Lackey can make it back, because it sounds as if Matsuzaka is worse than first believed. He has a sprained ligament, but if two weeks of rest followed by rehab doesn’t work, he could be facing surgery.

The Sox will have to rely on Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Josh Beckett to get deep into games consistently to take the pressure off the pen. Last night, Buchholz was over 120 pitches as he held the Tigers scoreless through seven.

But it doesn’t always work out that way.

Nothing says Wakefield can’t get on one of his streaks of quality starts. With Aceves, the Sox are hoping he just keeps them in games. Whether his body will hold up remains to be seen.

Wakefield and Aceves also will be in competition with one another, because when Lackey returns, one of them will return to the bullpen. Lackey has inflammation in his elbow, which he felt before his last start but didn’t tell anyone. Instead he went out and threw 118 pitches against the Blue Jays. The next day, he finally fessed up to some discomfort.

The Sox certainly didn’t think they would go through the season without a pitching injury, as they did in 2004. But to have two starters go down at the same time with elbow issues also was not anticipated.

We know general manager Theo Epstein will have his scouts out looking for pitching. The Sox have some interesting trade chips, including Mike Cameron and Marco Scutaro, for teams looking for righthanded hitting or infield depth. Whether either or both could bring them a serviceable starter is unlikely without a prospect thrown in.

At some point, a team like Atlanta will need more offense, and it has starting pitching to deal. While the Braves have issued recent denials about their willingness to trade Derek Lowe, he is certainly a name to watch. Lowe has expressed in the past a desire to return to Boston.

If the Twins continue to fall back, Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano could become available.

For the time being, though, the Sox will give their current rotation a go. The good news is the division is bunched up. There isn’t a team, as it looks today, that is going to pull away from the pack.

Over the next week or two, you might see the Sox try to add pitching depth, and not necessarily a starter.

If the Sox can win consistently through this difficult time, their chances of winning the American League East will be enhanced significantly. Sometimes you find a player or get unexpected performances from players you never thought would help you. That’s what the Sox need.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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