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Using six starters definitely puts a different spin on rotation

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / June 1, 2011

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The White Sox think a six-man rotation suits their team fine. The Red Sox don’t.

It’s an easy fix for the situation the Sox will be in when John Lackey returns from the disabled list following his rehab start in Pawtucket last night (provided everything checks out). The Sox will have to make a call on who stays in the rotation, Alfredo Aceves or Tim Wakefield. Based on last night’s start, the decision is simple. Logic says Wakefield stays in the rotation and Aceves moves back to the bullpen, where he’s a proven commodity.

The Sox would go with a six-man for a turn or two, but not for the long term. They have their reasons.

Manager Terry Francona thinks you’re leaving your bullpen terribly shorthanded by going this route. He also doesn’t like it because starters can go too long between starts, especially with off days in the schedule.

“Right now, I’d like to have more guys in the bullpen,’’ said Francona. “So you’ve got to have a good bullpen to be able to do that. When a guy goes short, like I guess what happened the other day, [Gavin] Floyd had to come out and throw on a side day in a game and it’s hard. It makes it uneasy for me to do that.’’

Former A’s and Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson agrees.

“It does tax your bullpen,’’ Peterson said. “What you want is to maximize the chance to win when your top two starters go out there. First of all, you want your two best starters to pitch as much as possible and secondly you need to make sure the back end of your bullpen is well-rested so you have your best going to win the game that your best pitchers are pitching in.’’

But the White Sox’ reasons for doing it also have merit. First and foremost, you do it because you feel you have six quality starters. Not many teams have that.

It also allows the starter to go deeper into games, knowing he has an extra day of rest. This can keep you away from inferior middle relievers and allow you to go right to the set-up men/closers.

Starting pitchers always seem to need an extra day here and there. The White Sox just went through a stretch of playing 20 straight days, and using six starters made that very tolerable. The starters say they have adjusted to a six-man rotation, though it took a little time.

Asked about the idea, Josh Beckett didn’t seem automatically opposed.

“It seems that situation occurs when we have all of these off-days anyway,’’ said Beckett. “Then you’re adding another day.

“You could make it work and you wouldn’t hear anyone here who couldn’t do it. But it would take some getting used to.’’

Veteran pitchers are sensitive about this stuff. They get into a routine and hate being thrown off. Over the years, it has been suggested that this type of rotation would be good for Daisuke Matsuzaka because in Japan he was used to pitching every six days.

When Jake Peavy came off the disabled list, the White Sox felt it was unfair to penalize No. 5 starter Phil Humber, who has been arguably their best starter. John Danks, on the other hand, is 0-8, but there was no way the White Sox were going to demote him to the bullpen.

“One of the most complex things in baseball is trying to come up with a schedule that maximizes every cycle,’’ said Peterson. “If you lose one cycle, you may never get it back. It can ruin your whole season.’’

Peterson said he always penciled in his No. 1 and No. 2 starters for 19 starts before the All-Star break so they’d be on a pace for 33-34. And even if you went to a six-man rotation, he thinks it would be counterproductive not to maximize the starts for your No. 1 and 2.

So how would a six-man rotation look for the Red Sox?

1. Jon Lester — He could be the most affected by longer layoffs. If anyone needs to be in a regular five-man rotation, it would seem to be Lester, who is the ace and the workhorse of the staff. Messing with the rhythm of your ace is never good. Not that Lester wouldn’t be adaptable, but the idea of having an ace is to pitch him as often as possible.

2. Clay Buchholz — He isn’t a power pitcher per se, though he can throw hard. He economizes about as well as any Sox pitcher. His style seems more suited to taking an extra day to refine things and sharpen his pitches.

3. Josh Beckett — While on the surface he appears to be a veteran pitcher set in his ways, he could probably use the extra rest. Beckett doesn’t believe it would necessarily mean going deeper because it depends on the game and situation. “People think we go by pitch counts here, but we don’t,’’ he said. “We’ve gotten away from that. It’s all about the stress involved with every pitch. If I have a guy at second base and I’m making pitches, those pitches are more stressful than if I have nobody on base. It really goes by how many of those situations you have. Sometimes an extra day is warranted and needed, and sometimes it’s not. I’m sure if that’s what they decided to do, then everyone would have to get used to it.’’

4. John Lackey — Given his elbow issues, an extra day probably would do him good. When he’s pitching well, he does go deep into games. He threw 118 pitches against Toronto before he went on the DL, so he doesn’t mind getting his pitch total up. The extra day would allow that.

5. Tim Wakefield — Any pitcher who is 44 years old could use an extra day.

6. Alfredo Aceves —He is used to getting consistent work, since he’s been mostly a reliever. Having an extra day might lead to a rust factor or what Roger Clemens used to describe as feeling “too strong.’’ Aceves likes to throw a lot to keep sharp.

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

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