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Start to finish, Morales is underappreciated

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  July 18, 2012 09:06 AM

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The decision-making on Yawkey Way continues to boggle.

Never mind Jon Lester's decision to pitch to old friend Kevin Youkilis last night after going 3-0 on him (Was it just me or did Youkilis have a somewhat-knowing grin on his face in lieu of his usual disgruntled smirk after stepping out of the box at 3-2?) only to watch a game-deciding three-run home run sail into the steamy night. We won't even begin to fathom Bobby Valentine's brilliant idea to have Nick Punto pinch-hit for Pedro Ciriaco in the ninth inning of the 7-5 loss to the White Sox. Next we'll see the Powerful Punto get some time in the DH-by-committee necessitated by David Ortiz's heel injury.

But the idea that Franklin Morales is the pitcher that deserves to go to the bullpen is somewhat incomprehensible.

The Red Sox announced Tuesday that their best starting pitcher over the last month is headed back to the bullpen, just before their worst starting pitcher over the last year was shelled yet again, leaving fans scratching their heads about the need to have Morales in a relief role.

"It's a hard decision, but that's the way baseball is sometimes," pitching coach Bob McClure told the Boston Herald. "He's got a long career ahead of him. He wants to start. We know that. He's 26, and we think he's got a future in it."

No, Bob. He has a present in it.

Morales' career history of inconsistency has been well noted, and could very well be the primary reason why he failed to break out during his time with the Colorado Rockies. When he got the starting job last month, all Morales managed to do was go 2-1 over five starts with a 3.42 ERA. Morales compiled 31 strikeouts in the 100 at-bats against him as a starter, a stark contrast to Boston's other top starter recently, Aaron Cook, who has unfathomably struck out only two - and walked two - over 29 2/3 innings (If you missed Deadspin's anti sabermetric analysis on Cook, it's well worth a read). Morales K/9 ratio of 10.59 is far and away the best in the beleaguered rotation.

You could argue you need those strikeouts in pivotal situations late in the game. I'll give you that. And yes, like Bobby Valentine pointed out, he's the only one of the six starters to have relieved this season, but it's not as if Felix Doubront doesn't have some prior experience in that role. 

Boston's starting rotation is primary reason No. 1 why the Red Sox are a mere 46-45, languishing 10 games back in the AL East "race." It is a group with no clear-cut ace, or at least one that has two potential top-of-the-rotation guys, who for whatever reasons are hollow shells of the players their contracts otherwise dictate they are supposed to be.

And Morales is the guy to go?

Boston's bullpen has pitched to the tune of a 3.02 ERA, second-best in the American League to the Oakland A's (2.80). It's not exactly as though it was an aspect of the game that was thirsting for a guy like Morales, even with the recent injury to Scott Atchinson.

The Sox' offense has scored 455 runs, one fewer than the AL-leading Texas Rangers. On the other hand, Boston starters are collectively 35-33 with a 4.77 ERA, 11th out of 14 teams in the American League. Since last year's All-Star break, Lester is 10-12 with a 4.37 ERA. Over that same time frame, Josh Beckett is 10-11 with a 4.11 ERA. Neither has been any better than No. 3 starter caliber this season, yet each retains his job because of reputation, one that takes a further hit every time each takes the mound.

No Red Sox starter who still maintains his every-fifth-day gig has performed worse than Lester since last July, and yet the guy who could be an important emergence gets a demotion he hardly deserved. Morales pitched a scoreless inning in relief last night, holding off the White Sox as the Red Sox attempted to stage a comeback thanks to Kelly Shoppach's pinch-hit, two-run homer in the eighth inning But it was Lester who had already created the damage in a labored game that would have had Jeff Gray shouting for him to speed it up. By the end of Lester's evening, he had thrown 91 pitches over four innings. After the game, we heard the same dour confusion from Lester, who is clearly at a loss for answers during his lost 2012 season.

Yet he stays and will start against Toronto on Sunday while Morales gets a lesser role for a team that aches for stability at the top of its starting rotation.

Who ever thought that would mean Morales and Cook instead of Lester and Beckett? Why you wouldn't just ride with it ... well, that's not our decision, I suppose.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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