David Wells is back. Try to contain your emotions.
Despite the paucity of blaring trumpets signaling his return, palms swaying in his path to the ballpark, it’s difficult to deny that tonight’s start against the Devil Rays is one of certain significance. Yes, it means a pay check for Wells, who’s paid on spec, but it also plays an even weightier role in determining just what kind of starting rotation the Red Sox will have going forward.
One-two is fine, as long as Curt Schilling is the Curt Schilling he was Monday and not the one we saw the previous three weeks. Three, in Tim Wakefield, has been erratic at best so far. But the four-five starters are another story entirely. The Matt Clement situation has officially crossed the line from concern into mess (kind of like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, writes reader Mike McElman), and the joke the other night was that Lenny DiNardo is on the DL with a strained neck thanks to whiplash from watching batters rattle his deliveries.
And Bronson Arroyo has the best ERA in the National League. But we won't get into that.
As for Wells, you might remember that in his one start earlier this season, the man nearly created a new dictionary illustration for “washed up.” He lasted just four innings and gave up seven runs in a Clement-like performance. Now he's back after six weeks on the DL with a sprained knee. Frankly, no one knows what to expect from the burly guy tonight. He could be fairly effective. He could retire come last call.
One thing he’s likely not to do though is win. You can leave that up to his 22-year-old opponent in Scott Kazmir, who is astonishingly 21 years younger than Wells. As Marc Topkin points out in today’s St. Petersburg Times, “Wells was going into his third season of pro ball when Kazmir was born in 1984.”
Not many have had Boston’s number like Kazmir. The kid is enjoying his breakout season (7-2, 2.39 ERA), proving to the rest of the AL what the Red Sox already know. In nine career games against Boston, his most vs. any opponent, Kazmir is 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA. He comes into tonight a winner in his last five starts, and has allowed all of two earned runs over 27 2/3 innings in the month of May.
Meanwhile, Victor Zambrano is done for the season in New York. Imagine the Mets rotation with this kid, Pedro Martinez, and Tom Glavine? Eh, water under the bridge in Queens, I suppose.
You talk about the young stud hurlers in baseball these days, and Kazmir is right near the top, along with guys like Jonathan Papelbon and Justin Verlander. His 2.39 ERA is second only to Jose Conteras in the AL (fourth in all of MLB behind also Brad Penny and, ahem, Arroyo). Kazmir’s 67 strikeouts are second in the AL to Johan Santana’s 75. He’s tied for the league lead in wins (with Schilling and Josh Becket). And oh, yeah, he’s already beaten Boston twice this season, with a 1.42 ERA to boot, striking out 17 over his 12 2/3 innings.
The kid is nasty, and what’s scary is, he’s much more polished and successful at 22 than anyone could really imagine. The general consensus was that Kazmir was going to be a legitimate starting pitcher for years to come. The fact that he’s matured into this in just his third major league season is astounding. Almost as much as him being on the Devil Rays.
This, mind you, is one of the game’s most promising pitchers playing for one of the most inept and irrelevant franchises. He keeps progressing like this though, and that won’t stand true for too much longer.
As for Wells, if you thought the Roger Clemens rumblings were about to start getting even louder, wait until after tonight. They may very well be at full blast. Folks may start demanding the immediate promotion of Jon Lester or the reinstatement of Keith Foulke as the closer so Papelbon can take his awaiting spot in the starting five.
Or Wells could be fine. Who knows.
But I’d keep an eye on Clemens and Lester in any case.