Ask Nick: Pitching issues crop up

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Pitching issues have begun to crop up with the Red Sox, and our mailbag reflects it this week with a lot of concerns about Felix Doubront, who was bumped from his start Wednesday in favor of Allen Webster. There are concerns about Doubront’s drop in velocity. He did report to spring training with a sore arm, but worked through it slowly.

As we all witnessed, Webster is not ready for prime time after allowing eight runs over 1.2 innings in a 15-8 loss to the Twins. Webster might be more mature and ready at some point this season, but clearly the time isn’t now.

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This presents an interesting situation for general manager Ben Cherington, who suddenly may have to be out looking for a starting pitcher. The depth the Red Sox seemed to have has disappeared, and they don’t seem to trust Alfredo Aceves.

Lots of factors will come into play over the next couple of months, but you can’t rule out the Red Sox going after a Jake Peavy or Cliff Lee (if available) if they’re in the hunt by late July.

Will the Sox look to acquire a pitcher at the deadline if Doubront or Lackey falters? Maybe Cliff Lee?
Spencer, Quebec

I would say yes. I think the Red Sox believed they had enough starter depth, but I think the recent struggles of Webster give rise to speculation that perhaps the Red Sox aren’t as strong in secondary starter depth as they thought. Obviously, we’ll have to see where the Red Sox are by the time the trading deadline comes. But they are a team that does its due diligence, and I’m sure they’ll look into the Cliff Lee, Jake Peavy, Bud Norris, or whoever might be available at the time.

In light of Doubront’s recent struggles and loss of velocity, would the Red Sox consider stretching out Franklin Morales as a starter during his rehab assignment and slotting him into the starting rotation when ready?
Tuck, Boston

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I think they will stretch him out, but it appears there may be a need for him to be strictly a reliever given their recent string of injuries.

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Obviously a small sample size to go on, but any prediction for who the Sox might want at first base next season? Napoli looks as advertised in Fenway, but his asking price/years should increase significantly and his hip/defense won’t improve with age. Carp and Nava both look solid; they fit in well and could be cost-efficient options. Brentz or Middlebrooks could make the move over. Or do the Sox look elsewhere?
Ben, Phoenix

I would assume if Napoli has another good season, he’s back there at first base. The only fly in the ointment could be if Napoli can get a multi-year deal elsewhere given his hip condition. The Red Sox may want to go a year at a time with him, but if Napoli’s hips are unchanged, he may be able to get a multi-year elsewhere. Otherwise, I would guess the Red Sox would go out and find a first baseman in a deal or in free agency.
Do you think that the Red Sox will retire David Ortiz’s number when he retires?
Kingsley, New York

He’s a great Red Sox player, no question. In my opinion, the criteria for having your number retired should be that you’re in the Hall of Fame and you went into the Hall in that cap. Not sure Ortiz will have the numbers to get himself seriously considered for induction. The one guy who should have his number retired is Wade Boggs, a Hall of Famer who went in as a Red Sox player. I find it very strange Boggs hasn’t had the number retired. I almost think it’s personal.
Last time in your column, a Sox fan asked a question about Clay Buchholz wetting his uniform between innings. Then there was an explosion in the media about it. Coincidence? Is it possible this question got people watching Buchholz more closely? Also, what’s the rule in regard to “doctoring the ball” (illegal) and “getting a grip on the ball” (legal)?
Randy, Lehi, Utah

A pitcher can’t use any substance to put on the ball. Any substance is illegal. A pitcher can’t go to his mouth while on the rubber. A pitcher has to wipe whatever substance or moisture he has on his jersey before he throws the ball or he could be called. Rosin is really the only legal substance allowed.
I understand the power Salty brings to the lineup, but his defense behind the plate is less than stellar. I’m just wondering if Salty is that much better defensively than Lavarnway. Or is this one of those situations where Lavarnway is blocked because the Sox can’t find another home for Salty?
Kelven, Monterey, Calif.

I’m not in the camp that says Salty is a lousy defensive catcher. He’s not the best, but watch other catchers in the league. I think he has a good knowledge of his pitchers and he’s learned how to call a game in different situations. That only comes with experience. In that regard, yes, he is ahead of Lavarnway. And he’s only 28, with power from both sides of the plate. Don’t be too quick to want to replace him.
Nick, what´s going on with Middlebrooks? Did he lose his mojo? It´s not just about his slump but his lack of defense, too.
Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil

I think he’s just finding out how to survive in the big leagues. Pitchers have the scouting reports. They know where he’s vulnerable. So now he has to adjust to their adjustments, and that’s what he’s in the process of doing. If you had another third baseman, you might think about sending him back to Pawtucket, but you don’t, so he’s here working things out. I think his defense has been fine.
Would the Sox consider using Webster or De La Rosa as a closer?
Ron, Framingham

Who knows, in the course of a 162-game season, what could happen? I never thought Middlebrooks would have been up as soon as he was last season. Obviously Webster is someone they feel will be a No. 1 type starter at some point, though after his last outing he looks far, far from that. De La Rosa is a guy who is creating a dilemma because they want him to start, but they see his value as a reliever. That could be interesting.
Do you think the Twins would entertain a trade of Salty/Ellsbury/Aceves for Joe Mauer?
Peter, Chandler, Ariz.

Probably not. The Twins like Hicks in center. Why Aceves? Mauer would have been a terrific Fenway hitter. I was an advocate for that this offseason, and to the Red Sox’ credit, they made the phone call. He would wear out the Wall here. Absolutely wear it out.
Tazawa the new closer?
Colin, Winthrop

Looking forward to seeing it play out. He has the necessities to be a good one. I just don’t know about his mind-set. He needs to be an animal and I have seen some of that in him at times.
Now that David Ortiz is back, why do we still have the best No. 2 hitter in baseball hitting third? Why doesn’t the lineup begin Ellsbury, Pedroia, Ortiz, Napoli, then go from there? Pedroia is not a No. 3 hitter.
Randy, Albuquerque, N.M.

I do agree. Though I think Shane Victorino has done a good job in the No. 2 spot. Pedroia has also hit well for average in the No. 3 spot, but obviously doesn’t have the power you’re looking for in that spot.
I know Salty is working hard to become a better catcher. However, I have been watching him behind the plate. Catchers are taught from the beginning to move their body, not just their arms, when reaching for or trying to block a pitch in the dirt. I do not see that happening — may be why quite a few get behind him. Maybe no Tuck around has an effect?
T.D.M., Montgomery, N.Y.

He’s a big guy, and catching is tough for a big guy, just as it is for big pitchers. The one thing I’d do that the team has never done is bring Carlton Fisk in to work with him. Fisk was a big catcher and he would love to work with Salty. And I think Gary Tuck was overrated.
With so much talk (deservedly so) about the new pitching coach, not much has been said about the new hitting coach(es). This team, as currently constructed, seems to be too inconsistent in hitting for contact, light-hitting overall, falling behind on power numbers, fails to drive in runs at an alarmingly high rate, and has too many struggling in slumps to get away from the Mendoza line. Therefore, my question is, how is the new hitting regime assessed so far?
Bruce, Saigon, Vietnam

Well, I guess you don’t feel it’s been very good. I think the approach by Gregg Colbrunn has been good. They’ve gotten back to seeing more pitches and making pitchers work harder. The Red Sox have been able to get into the opposition’s middle relief certainly earlier than they did last season.
Have Yaz come in and work with Jacoby. Change his stance. He swings at the ball when it is in the catcher’s mitt. He will never hit 32 homers with that inside-out swing.
Donald, Rochester, Minn.

Jacoby hasn’t got it going quite yet. That swing did produce 32 homers, so I’m not sure why it wouldn’t again. His timing is definitely off, but hitters lose it and then find it. I don’t think you worry about guys like him. He’ll find his stroke.

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