Old buddy Josh Beckett pitched in Baltimore Saturday.
Allen Webster pitched in Boston Sunday.
One start went just as you might expect. The other provided an encouraging glimpse into the perhaps-potent future of the Red Sox rotation.
While it’s clear that Carl Crawford (.338, .427 OBP), Nick Punto (.990 OPS), and Adrian Gonzalez (1.008 OPS, and in his comfort zone now, back on a team where he’s removed from the microscope of pressure and accountability) have gotten off to hot starts for the Los Angeles Dodgers, just 8-10 thus far on the season, Beckett is now 0-3 with a 4.68 ERA after his effort against the Orioles, in which Baltimore rocked the former Red Sox ace for eight hits, three walks, and six runs over 5 2/3 innings. Beckett has won only twice since the blockbuster trade to the Dodgers last August, and only three times since last July 15, his final victory in a Red Sox uniform. He has allowed six home runs over 25 innings this season, a stat that the Los Angeles’ Times Dylan Hernandez calls his “Joe Blanton imitation.”
It hasn’t all been Beckett’s fault. In his third start of the season, he was electric against Arizona, allowing just one run over 8 1/3 innings in which he struck out nine, and the offense supporting him has been increasingly lacking. But if the last two-plus years have taught us anything, those starts are the exception rather than the rule for Beckett, the one-time ace who seemingly is content with his freefall into obscurity.
Meanwhile, the 23-year-old Webster, who came to Boston along with Rubby De La Rosa and a host of others in last summer’s trade with Los Angeles, impressed in his debut Sunday night against the Royals, allowing two earned runs over six innings of work, and topping 97 miles per hour on the gun three times during the course of his 84 pitches. In Pawtucket, the kid had pitched 10 innings over two starts and allowed only one run while striking out 12, a precursor to the excitement that percolated when the Red Sox announced that he would get the nod in the second game of Sunday’s day-night doubleheader.
Webster did nothing to deny him another start, and it’s a given that most fans would jump at the chance to plug him in again for the confounding Alfredo Aceves until John Lackey returns from the disabled list. He’s more electric than Felix Doubront, for sure, but Felix Morales’ return is also going to muddy a crowded bullpen, which could spark the end for Andrew Miller. Webster’s impressive start may turn out to be little more than a serviceable moment for the time being, unless he pitches at a level in Pawtucket that gives John Farrell and Ben Cherington little option but to utilize him every fifth day.
Meanwhile, De La Rosa has struggled a bit in Triple-A this season, posting a 13.50 ERA over 6 2/3 innings on a pitch count that will go through the end of the month. The 24-year-old was, for the most part, the more ballyhooed name at the time of the trade, but remains raw. What Sox fans were able to witness on Sunday was the very first reward from the Beckett-Punto-Gonzalez-Crawford dump; a flame-throwing starter making his first major league mark at the age of 23. Of course, the sensible odds are that you’re more apt to see him pitch down 95 more than in the Fens this season, but the potential for stardom is salivating, and his first foray with the big boys did not disappoint.
Then there’s Beckett, making $15.8 million this season and next. At the age of 33, his best days are clearly behind him, and his Baseball Reference list of similar pitchers by age reads like a who’s who of untapped potential: Chuck Dobson. Ben McDonald. Mark Prior, athletes who flirted with greatness for a short time, but were never able to hang onto it for the long term, or simply fell apart whether it was due to injury or makeup. With Beckett, it’s as little bit of both.
Even before we had witnessed what Webster might be able to deliver at the pro level, the trade was already a success, the Red Sox have ridden themselves of divisive members of a clubhouse gone awry, freeing themselves of cash, and obtaining two pitching prospects that could provide serious dividends in the near future. Never since the Derek Lowe-Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb deal have we witnessed such a coup.
Even despite the hot starts for Gonzalez, Crawford, and yes, Punto, the deal keeps getting better for the 12-6 Sox, a surprising start following a dismal 2012, and one that is highlighted by its starting pitching, which leads the AL with a 2.53 ERA, tied for the lead with Oakland and New York with 9 wins from starters, and is second overall to Texas with a 1.16 WHIP. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz have been the best 1-2 punch in the league this side of Texas’ Yu Darvish and Derek Holland, and Ryan Dempster has been mostly encouraging, even without a win to his name. The fact that the team can’t find a permanent spot for Webster after what he showed on Sunday is only one more sign that points to the strength of this team.
It’s difficult to mock the Dodgers if only because every Red Sox fan should be eternally grateful for Magic Johnson and Co., looking to make a splash, only to take a bath with the ace they thought they might be landing.
They got the same guy Boston fans were all too used to on Saturday.
A day later, Boston had its first giggle over what could be many last laughs down the road.