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Pitching change has trickle-down effect

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / June 17, 2012
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CHICAGO - The Red Sox training staff didn’t like the strength numbers on the shoulder exam they gave Josh Beckett, so they decided to shut him down for a couple of weeks and hope the inflammation subsides.

The decision, according to a team source, was made by head physical therapist Mike Reinold, not by Beckett or manager Bobby Valentine.

Strange kind of hierarchy.

Valentine said Saturday, “We’re taking a conservative approach’’ to the situation.

It seems that if Beckett had to pitch Game 7 of the World Series Sunday, he would. Call it a two-week vacation and a chance to not only rest the shoulder but also deal with an ongoing thumb issue.

Beckett would not speak to the media, an indication the moody righthander wasn’t completely on board with the decision. It also shows that he will never grasp a leadership role on this team. Leaders address situations, both good and bad. Beckett just won’t do it.

Valentine said the team was going to back Beckett off for a couple of days, skipping his scheduled start Sunday night at Wrigley Field. The plan then switched to the 15-day disabled list.

The last time Beckett needed to be pushed back, because of a lat strain, he created a huge controversy by playing golf and saying, “My off day is my off day.’’

He was booed in his return May 10 while allowing seven runs on seven hits in 2 1/3 innings in an 8-3 loss to the Indians, but rebounded with several quality outings.

Beckett enraged people during his previous absence when he said, “We get 18 off days a year. I think we deserve a little bit of time to ourselves. It’s my off day. Nobody’s gonna tell me what I can do on my off day.’’

That stuck in some people’s craw. As one firefighter wrote to me, “If I played golf when I was supposed to be out of work with an injury, I’d be fired.’’

No such repercussions for Beckett.

Maybe declining to speak to the media Saturday was wise on Beckett’s part.

While he does not have strong favor in Red Sox Nation, he doesn’t seem to care. He has continued to be defiant after the chicken and beer incident last fall and after Golfgate.

Of course, one man’s DL trip is another man’s opportunity.

Franklin Morales will start Sunday against the Cubs. Morales has been a reliever for a long time, but he was a starter in his younger days with the Rockies. He is 5-4 with a 4.46 ERA in 15 career starts (he’s made 145 career relief appearances). His last start came April 21, 2009, when he lasted two innings and allowed two home runs against Arizona. He was 23 years old.

He was a force, however, during Colorado’s amazing late-season run in 2007 when the Rockies won his last five starts, including his final one before 51,999 at Dodger Stadium.

He has recently transitioned from Valentine’s setup man to long reliever.

Valentine thinks Morales can be an effective starter because of his 95-96-mile-per-hour fastball, split-fingered pitch, and curveball. This is Valentine’s guy, while Daniel Bard is the front office’s guy. Valentine has tried to stretch out Morales with three- and four-inning stints and feels he might be able to go as many as five.

Valentine also said Clay Buchholz was the first choice to pitch Sunday, and Buchholz was lined up for regular rest because of Thursday’s off day, but he informed Valentine that he needed extra time after a couple of strenuous outings.

So we have one guy who perhaps didn’t want to go on the disabled list and wanted to keep pitching, and another guy who needed extra rest and couldn’t step up and take the ball.

Adrian Gonzalez is out there playing right field and Kevin Youkilis bounces around from first to third. There are guys who make sacrifices for the good of the team even though it may hinder their overall performance.

Because Buchholz declined, Morales is now thrust into action.

Let’s emphasize this is a move that Valentine has wanted to make anyway. If Morales pitches well, it reinforces to Valentine that his instincts were right. But for a guy who hasn’t started since 2009, it could also create stress on the shoulder.

Obviously, the Sox were not ready to reintroduce Bard to the rotation. Bard has pitched one- and two-inning stints with Pawtucket, meaning he may be ticketed for the bullpen when he is recalled. The Sox went with Morales to start and opted for Clayton Mortensen to replace Beckett on the roster.

Morales has not been told that he’s getting another start, but if he performs well Sunday, Valentine will certainly push for it. If Morales can’t handle it, the Sox could always bring Bard back to the rotation.

This has certainly been a trying year for Valentine, who every day it seems has another player become unavailable. He has tried not to let it affect him, saying, “I’m too busy trying to find solutions once something happens. Injuries are a part of baseball. There are other teams going through injuries, too, and they’re making it work. We have to find a way to make it work.’’

Good luck with that.

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

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