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Throwing in their lot with Bedard

By Nick Cafardo
August 1, 2011

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CHICAGO - If back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins agrees with the Red Sox’ thinking that it’s best to shut Clay Buchholz down for the remainder of the season after he examines him today in Los Angeles, then yesterday’s acquisition, lefthander Erik Bedard, will have some big shoes to fill.

“We had a clear need for a starting pitcher,’’ said general manager Theo Epstein. “And we would not have been satisfied if we had the deadline pass without getting a starter. And we were willing to dig deep into our farm system to make that happen. And we wanted to make sure the acquisition cost was appropriate for the acquisition itself. Time will tell, but we hope that’s the case here.’’

Buchholz was moved to the 60-day disabled list yesterday, and the Red Sox had an urgency to obtain a starting pitcher. They pursued the Dodgers’ Hiroki Kuroda, who wouldn’t waive his no-trade clause. They considered the Rockies’ Ubaldo Jimenez, whom Cleveland obtained for its top two pitching prospects and two other minor leaguers. And they nearly worked out a trade for the Athletics’ Rich Harden, but backed off because of concerns about his medical history. So the Sox returned their focus to Bedard.

He had made only one start for the Mariners since coming off the disabled list (sprained left knee). And Bedard gave the Sox reason to hesitate by lasting only 1 1/3 innings against the Rays Friday, allowing five runs and four walks. But the Sox decided they were not going to rule Bedard out.

Bedard was acquired, along with righthanded reliever Josh Fields, as part of a three-team trade. The Sox sent three minor leaguers - catcher Tim Federowicz and righthanded pitchers Stephen Fife and Juan Rodriguez - to the Dodgers for minor league outfielder Trayvon Robinson. They then traded Robinson and outfielder Chih-Hsien Chiang, the leading hitter at Double A Portland, to the Mariners for Bedard and Fields.

Portland third baseman Will Middlebrooks, one of Boston’s top prospects, was scratched from the Sea Dogs’ lineup yesterday, prompting questions of whether he was involved in the trade talks, but he was not moved.

Bedard, 32, is 4-7 with a 3.45 ERA this season, with 87 strikeouts and 30 walks in 91 1/3 innings. He has made 16 starts after missing all of last season with an injury to his pitching shoulder. He has a 2.35 ERA in his last 12 starts dating to April 27, which ranks fourth among American League pitchers with at least 70 innings during that span. Since 2006, Bedard leads all AL pitchers with a .231 opponents’ batting average and 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings.

Bedard, who for the time being will join a six-man rotation, throws between 93-95 miles per hour and has a good curveball. When he’s healthy, he’s got superb stuff.

The questions about him always have been: 1. Can he stay healthy; 2. Can he handle a big market; 3. Can he pitch in big games. He also is said to have an abrasive personality.

Epstein indicated that the Sox feel Bedard will assimilate well with his new team, and the Sox are content to let “his pitching do the talking.’’ He’ll join the team today and wear No. 23.

“We’re very comfortable with adding Erik to this ball club,’’ Epstein said. “More than anything, he’s a really good fit for this club. He’s fine with teammates and competitive on the mound. He lets his arm do his talking, which is fine with us. Based on what we know about him, he’ll fit in fine and enjoy being a Red Sox in the middle of a pennant race.’’

The Canadian-born Bedard spent four full seasons in the AL East with the Orioles (2004-07). In 13 career games against the Yankees, he’s 4-5 with a 4.32 ERA. In 13 games against the Rays, he’s 11-4 with a 3.41 ERA. He has struggled at Fenway Park, going 2-3 with a 6.99 ERA in six games.

Regarding talk that perhaps Bedard’s personality is not conducive to pitching on a big stage, Epstein said, “There are a lot of labels in baseball and obviously every club does their research and gathers information on players. I’ve found there can be labels that aren’t always accurate.

“We got to know Erik well. We’re more than comfortable with what we found out as far as projecting him in our clubhouse making him one of these 25 guys. We think the other 24 guys will embrace him and he’ll embrace the situation and pitch big games for us and thrive.’’

Epstein was unwilling to discuss the Sox’ other attempts to land a pitcher. When asked about the Harden saga, Epstein declined to elaborate other than to say “there were no hard feelings’’ after the Sox backed out of a deal that would have sent Pawtucket first baseman and Oakland-born Lars Anderson to the A’s along with a player to be named.

The Sox had medical concerns about Harden, according to one major league source. Harden had been receiving injections after his starts to ease inflammation in his pitching shoulder. The team attempted to get the righthander for a cheaper price, to no avail.

Epstein also tried to obtain Kuroda, but the righthander decided to invoke his no-trade clause and stay in Los Angeles.

“Theo and Ned [Colletti, Dodgers GM] had a few conversations and I know players and money were discussed in a deal,’’ said one high-ranking Dodgers official. “But it never got to the stage where there was an agreement on a deal and when Hiroki didn’t want to go anywhere that ended those talks. We were willing to deal him, but it just didn’t work out.’’

Epstein said the Sox had been tracking Bedard from spring training right through the weekend.

“Reports on him in spring training were really good. His stuff had started to come back in April even though the results weren’t great,’’ said Epstein. “Reports on his stuff were encouraging and then in May and June he was throwing well. He was getting hitters out left and right, and really started to look like one of the better lefties in the league. We were on him then and then the knee injury came up.

“In his start the other day he looked healthy, rusty for sure, but we thought based on the looks, he had come back and looked like someone who could help us.’’

Epstein said the team will now try to get to know Bedard better.

“We’ll sit down and listen to what makes him tick: his routine, his between-start preparation and how his arm responds. We’ll do what we can to support him, and be as effective as he can be,’’ said the GM.

Yesterday’s trade, Epstein said, reminded him of the Nomar Garciaparra deal in 2004 and the Manny Ramirez deal in 2008, in that they came perilously close to the deadline.

“We weren’t willing to give up internally what [the Mariners] were looking for from us so we had to find a trading partner,’’ Epstein said. “We knew we had some matches so we made the trade first with the Dodgers knowing that Trayvon Robinson was a player to get us to Bedard.

“It was a little stressful because the one trade we had two minutes left and then the trade with Seattle with one minute left. It was pushing the deadline, but everyone had their mouse on the send button and made sure it got done before the clock struck 4 p.m.’’

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

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