Ask Nick: Why not use a six-man rotation?

Two weeks ago, David Ross told me, “We haven’t played our best baseball yet. Once we do, we’re going to run away with it.”

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Pretty good call by Mr. Ross. The Red Sox are playing their best baseball, and barring a collapse, they appear to be running away with it. All that’s left is the wild-card races, and they will indeed go down to the wire. The Red Sox will likely have a lot of say in those because of their head-to-head meetings with the Yankees and Orioles.

We can’t overstate the significance of Clay Buchholz’s return to the Red Sox. It really is like they’ve just acquired an elite pitcher for September. As he builds back up to full throttle, the Red Sox have their shutdown pitcher back, which now enables them to easily match up against the Tigers, Rangers, Rays, A’s, or whomever.

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And looking beyond this year, Pedro Martinez said, “Next year you’re talking about Cy Young for Clay. That’s where you’re looking now. Nobody is more upset that he couldn’t have a full year more than he is.”

*In his absence, we’re going to find out how important Jacoby Ellsbury is. Agent Scott Boras and the Red Sox insist Ellsbury will be back from his fractured right foot before the end of the regular season and should be good by the postseason. Boras said no surgery is required and called the injury “self-healing.”

We still wonder how this will affect teams going after Ellsbury this offseason when he hits free agency. Then again, Boras has gotten big contracts for players (Magglio Ordonez being one) coming off injuries.

*Xander Bogaerts wants to be like his older teammates, but he acknowledged that he can’t grow one of those team beards because he’s unable to grow hair on the sides of his face. In lieu of a beard, maybe he can provide a few more 450-foot homers.

*On the subject of Bogaerts, we’re trying to come up with a nickname. He says a lot of people call him “Bogey” or “X-Man.” How about “X-Factor”? Or just “X”? Any ideas?

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*Shane Victorino told me that while he’s on a roll hitting righthanded, he will not abandoned switch hitting. He did say that perhaps he’ll be selective when he bats lefthanded and not do it automatically.

Considering that so many pitchers do better with additional rest, why do the Sox, and other teams as well, not go with a six-man rotation?
Bruce, Saigon, Vietnam
I’ve always asked this question of pitching experts and they all say the same thing – you can do it, but you’d have to have the right six guys to pull it off. Some guys think too much rest throws them off their game. They feel “too strong” is what I get and therefore they overthrow and get out of their comfort zone. I never understood this, but I’ve seen it happen. Veteran pitchers like their routine. Also, you want your 1-2 pitchers to pitch as often as possible, not less.

This season has yet to close and I already have questions for next year. Salty has improved significantly since last year at the plate as well as behind the plate. With free agency looming for Salty, do you think the Sox will try and bring him back?
Evan, Longmeadow
Salty has indeed improved. I think Dana LeVangie, the new bullpen coach and catching instructor, has done a great under-the-radar job getting Salty over the hump. Gary Tuck used to get all the credit for the catchers, but the biggest improvement has come under LeVangie, who was the former bullpen catcher (working a lot with Jason Varirek) and then the advance scout, breaking down the opposition. I think the Red Sox will make Salty a good offer, but if I were him, I’d test the market. There’s Brian McCann and there’s Salty and he should get a big payday. I know Salty has publicly stated he’d like to remain a Red Sox. Given how far he’s come in his relationship with the pitching staff, I think it would behoove the Red Sox to sign him. On the other hand, they have a lot of catching prospects, though the one who seems to be a starter is Blake Swihart, who is probably two years away.

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I was wondering what the Sox had in their plans for first base starting in 2014. My first impression would be that they would try to move Middlebrooks to first, keep Bogaerts at shortstop, and possibly consider looking at Cecchini for the long term. What do you think?
Nate, Erving
I think the Red Sox are trying to sort through this and probably won’t until after the season. I’m sure how they finish, whether they make the World Series or get eliminated, will have a lot to do with some of these decisions. I think a couple of weeks ago when Mike Napoli was slumping, we were all on the Move Will Middlebrooks To First campaign. But now Middlebrooks is hot, Napoli is hot, Bogaerts looks great. Now we’re on the bandwagon of playing Bogaerts at shortstop and not re-signing Stephen Drew. Garin Cecchini has Triple A to look forward to next season, so there’s time to figure him out. The other possibility is that Bogaerts spends some time in Triple A to start the season, which would open things up for Drew. Not many teams have good alternatives like this.

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Last week you had a question about the length of games and in your response you detailed the “grind out at-bats” theory. While I agree with you on this point, there is another side to that equation and that is the pitchers not being able to put hitter away. It seems every time a pitcher gets up 0-and-2 you know he is going to end up at 3-and-2. Earlier in the year and to some extent now, Lester was the greatest offender in this regard. I would think that if the hitters expected to get strikes, they would not be able to “grind out at-bats.”
Kevin, Greensboro, N.C.
True, Kevin, but that’s part of the grinding out at-bats philosophy. You’re right, pitchers generally don’t throw strikes and the hitters know that, so they take, take, take. The teams that have gotten ahead on the count vs. Boston have beaten them, but it doesn’t seem that a majority of them understand this concept, which is good for the Red Sox.
Watching Arnie Beyeler coach first base, I noticed he has what looks like a stopwatch or something in his right hand when he approaches a player on first to talk to them after each pitch. I was wondering what it is he is keeping track of and what information he would be relaying to the runner about it.
Rick, Rochester, N.Y.
I would guess it’s the time of the pitcher’s delivery to the plate, which often determines whether a runner will attempt a stolen base. Every team seems to have a different time. Lackey is one of the slowest, so you’ll see a lot of stolen bases against him. Buchholz is one of the fastest, which is why it was strange to see the Rays attempt two steals against him Tuesday night (thrown out by Salty both times).
The last time the Evil Empire came around, A-Rod was supposed to be suspended, but managed to play in the Sox series by appealing. And we know what happened then. And now they’re coming back, and he’s still in the lineup. How long is this “appeal” supposed to be taking? Doesn’t it get kind of farcical if he ends up playing almost the entire stretch run?
Paul, Washington, D.C.
He’ll play out the season – regular season and postseason if need be – because the hearing can’t take place until he’s able to be present for it. So whenever his season ends, that’s when the hearing will start. That’s the bargained routine. If it’s bargained, I have no problem with it.
How is this fair? Rosters expanded on Sept. 1. The Rays will play three more games than the Sox with the expanded roster. That is an unfair advantage. Should the rule be changed to expand the roster after a certain number of games played by the team to make it fair for all?
Dave, Maynard

Don’t think the Rays have any advantage over the Red Sox as it turned out. The Red Sox have a lot of players up from Pawtucket as well. In general, the process needs to change. As Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin says, it’s the only sport where you play with a different roster in the most crucial month of the season. The compromise idea is to allow each team five extra players per game. You can call up as many players as you want but only five can be active. Fair?
What are the future lineup spots for our young players? Can Middlebrooks provide the big bat in the middle of the lineup? Is Bogaerts a No. 3 or 4 hitter? Will Bradley Jr. lead off if Ellsbury leaves? Where does Lavarnway hit? Also, will Pedroia stay in the 3-hole or go back to second?
Tad, Rumford, R.I.
Questions, questions. That’s in the future, of course. Middlebrooks should be a middle-of-the-order hitter with his power. Bradley should be a leadoff-type bat, but the one thing he needs to do is learn to steal bases. He has the speed for it, but it’s part of his game that hasn’t developed. Not sure they know what to do with Ryan Lavarnway. Not sure if they want to commit to him as a future starter. We know Pedroia can hit anywhere. I still like him No. 2.

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