PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – With John Smoltz, Clay Buchholz, and Michael Bowden looming, the Red Sox may have enough arms to give their starting pitchers a break, a luxury few teams possess. Perhaps no starter would be better served by a scheduled rest than Tim Wakefield.
Wakefield – who allowed four runs (two earned) in three innings today against the Rays in his third appearance of the spring – has pitched with a small tear in the labrum of his right shoulder for two years. His production has remained steady throughout the season but, owing to fatigue, it evaporated in the playoffs.
If all goes to plan, the Red Sox will be able to conserve Wakefield because of their starting depth.
“It’s a great backup to have if we need a spot start to give somebody a breather,” Wakefield said. “Last year, I don’t think we had those options.”
Wakefield, 42, offered only one solution to healing his shoulder for good: surgery.
“That’s probably it,” he said. “And I don’t want to have it. At this point, if I have labrum surgery, I miss a whole year. Just got to maintain my strength.”
Maintaining his strength last season became untenable. Buchholz struggled, Justin Masterson became a reliever, and Josh Beckett spent time on the disabled list. Plus, Wakefield produced a string of quality starts and didn’t want to stop.
“I just had to keep pitching,” Wakefield said. “I was feeling good at that time. I was on such a good run, it’s hard to sit down.”
Preserving Wakefield for October this season may hinge on sitting him down. In the past two regular seasons, Wakefield went 27-23 with a 4.45 ERA; in the playoffs, he went 0-2 with a 12.27 ERA.
“Wake is the one guy who probably hasn’t gotten that break built in,” said manager Terry Francona. “And at the end of the season, we’ve lost him both years.
“What you want to do and what you’re able to do aren’t always the same thing. But we would like him healthy the whole year.”
Wakefield threw 49 pitches Saturday in a sloppy, 15-7 loss to the Rays, his highest total of the spring. He allowed just two hits, striking out three and walking one.
“I felt a little better than the last outing,” he said. “Timing seems to be better. I’d like to have better results. I got a lot of swings and misses, which is good.
“I got my pitch count back up where it needs to be. I feel confident. Move on from there.”
Daisuke Matsuzaka made his first start for Japan in the World Baseball Classic Saturday, a 14-2 victory over Korea in Tokyo. Matsuzaka allowed two earned runs on four hits and two walks in four innings, throwing 65 pitches, 39 for strikes. Francona woke up early to watch most of the start.
“Little shaky in the first inning,” Francona said. “It was OK. Threw a couple good breaking balls, left a few over the plate in the first inning or two. Again, it’s spring training. You don’t have the luxury of missing your spots, because the game is on television.”
Francona will face a new challenge when Matsuzaka arrives in camp, which will happen when Japan is eliminated. The Red Sox will have to devise a throwing schedule that will allow Matsuzaka to prepare for the season without wearing him down.
“We’ll see where he’s at,” Francona said. “If they go all the way, he’ll be at 110 [pitches], which is a lot for March 24.
“Everything is different. We’ve never gone through that before, so we’ll handle it when the time comes and do the best thing.”
Julio Lugo came to the Red Sox in 2007 with a .402 career slugging percentage, having hit at least 10 home runs in five of the six full seasons he played. That power has disappeared with the Red Sox. Lugo has nine home runs in 831 at-bats with Boston and a .343 slugging percentage.
Lugo, competing with Jed Lowrie for the starting shortstop position, added muscle this offseason and has slightly altered his batting stance. The changes, the Red Sox hope, will help him recapture his power.
“Talking to [hitting coach Dave Magadan], he thinks we may see that more this year,” Francona said.
Lugo, said the manager, is “a little more upright in his stance, and he does seem to be a little bit stronger. Haven’t witnessed it yet down here. That doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen.”
David Ortiz was the designated hitter for the Dominican Republic in its opening game of the WBC, a stunning 3-2 loss to the Netherlands in which Ortiz went 0 for 2 with two walks. Ortiz had played first base during a WBC exhibition, which surprised the Red Sox and left open the possibility of him playing the field during the tournament. Earlier this spring, Ortiz experienced stiffness in his left shoulder. “I think David will use his judgment,” Francona said. “I would never tell [Dominican manager] Felipe [ Alou] who to play. I was just caught by surprise. That wasn’t anybody’s fault. We don’t play him at first because we’re trying to keep him healthy. But, again, I would never tell someone. These games mean a lot to them, and I understand that. But there’s a reason we DH him.”
Mike Lowell will probably make his spring training debut Tuesday against the Orioles as a DH, Francona said. Lowell, who is recovering from offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip, will likely play third base Friday in a night game against the Yankees at City of Palms Park . . . Rocco Baldelli has been feeling tightness in his groin and has not played since being the DH last Tuesday. Francona said Baldelli might return tomorrow. “It’s been the last couple of days,” Francona said. “It’s not that bad or anything. Just thought it made sense to stay away until he’s feeling better.” . . . Brad Penny will throw 35 pitches in a bullpen session tomorrow. He is trying to return to his rehab schedule after being scratched from a start Thursday because of fatigue in his right shoulder.
Miguel Gonzalez, a pitcher the Red Sox selected in the Rule 5 draft this winter, underwent Tommy John surgery and will begin rehab in Fort Myers . . . The Red Sox committed six errors today, which led to nine unearned runs. “We like putting up crooked numbers,” Francona said. “But not in the error column.” Argenis Diaz, whom Baseball America named the best defensive prospect in the Red Sox farm system, made two of the errors. “That’s the one thing we’ve talked to him since last spring – OK, make the routine play,” Francona said. “He admitted, ‘I got lazy. I didn’t move my feet.’ ” . . . The Rays have scored 26 runs in two games this spring against the Red Sox. . . . Jacoby Ellsbury needed ice for his shin after a foul ball left a baseball-sized bump on his leg. Ellsbury, who was fine, proudly showed the bruise to catcher Josh Bard.
Adam Kilgore can be reached at email@example.com