Pawtucket’s new pitching staff looks to take team to playoffs
To begin the 2012 season, the Pawtucket Red Sox had a surplus of quality pitchers. This led to what was an excellent six man rotation featuring Aaron Cook, Justin Germano, Ross Ohlendorf, Alex Wilson, Brandon Duckworth, and Doug Mathis. With the PawSox 0.5 game behind the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees for first place and only 5 weeks left in the triple-A season, none of these pitchers will be starting for Pawtucket. Cook, who had an opt out clause in his contract if he wasn’t in the big leagues by May 1st, was called up to become a part of Boston’s rotation. Germano, Pawtucket’s opening night starter and an I.L. All-Star, was called up to Boston on July 4th, pitching in just one game for the team before being designated for assignment on July 13th. He has since been traded to the Chicago Cubs for cash considerations. Ohlendorf, who had an opt out clause in his contract for June 1st, decided to move on from the organization and signed with the San Diego Padres, where he is one of their starting pitchers. Wilson, who is still on the team, has been moved to the bullpen in hopes that he will be used in that capacity when someday promoted to Boston. Most recently, Duckworth and Mathis separately decided to leave the team to pitch in Japan. Both pitchers had stipulations in their contract that allowed them to do this.
Now, in the middle of their playoff push, Pawtucket has five new starting pitchers. They are Tony Pena Jr., Zach Stewart, Billy Buckner, Chris Hernandez, and Nelson Figueroa. Pena Jr., who was Pawtucket’s Pitcher of the Year a season ago, has not been very good this year. The converted shortstop is a dismal 1-9 on the year with a 5.66 ERA. His opponents are hitting him at .319, a number that must go down if he is going to have any success. With so many players and pitchers that Pawtucket was relying on off the roster, it is important that he regain some of 2011 form if the PawSox want to make a run in the playoffs. Stewart was acquired by the Red Sox in the Kevin Youkilis trade. He relies on his slider and sinker, recording many groundouts as opposed to strikeouts. The 25 year old right hander has seen time with the White Sox this year, pitching 30 innings with an ERA of 6.00. A problem for him has been homeruns allowed, as he has given up 10 in those 30 innings. The Red Sox hope he can be a productive pitcher for them, and as long as he can fix this and record a few more strikeouts, he will get a chance to be. Buckner has had a great deal of major league experience with the Royals and mainly the Diamondbacks. His command can be an issue, but can be an effective pitcher capable of striking someone out. Hernandez, a leftie, has pitched in two games since being promoted from Portland. His numbers are good early, as he is 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA. He will pitch to contact, and his ¾ delivery can make him a very nice bullpen arm someday. Figueroa was recently signed to add depth to the team. He is a veteran of 10 major league seasons, and is a nice addition to Pawtucket’s rotation. This year, he is 8-2 with a 3.94 ERA and is able to start or relieve.
A man not in the rotation but still very important to Sox fans is Daniel Bard. Bard has been with the PawSox for much of the year after struggling with Boston. His command has been the biggest issue, leading to his horrendous numbers at both levels. His numbers have been better lately, as he has not allowed a run in his last 4 appearances. Still, he has walked 3 during those 4 innings and that continues to be troublesome. It does not appear Boston is going anywhere in 2012, so it would not be surprising if the Sox choose to let Bard stay in triple-A gaining more confidence. There is no need to rush him to major league action if they are out of a playoff spot. He is a big part of the future for Boston, and this may be best for all parties.
If the Red Sox do decide to become sellers at the trade deadline, one name many have speculated about leaving is catcher Kelly Shoppach. This opens the door for catcher Ryan Lavarnway to make his mark in Boston. Lavarnway would get a chance to be what Shoppach was, a back up with a chance to play against lefties. Lavarnway is a 2012 all-star with the PawSox, hitting at .299 with 8 HR and 42 RBI. He is ready to make the jump to major leagues, and can certainly be a backup catcher. Though Jarrod Saltalamacchia has had success with Boston this year, I think he can be as good if not better. He will likely hit higher than Salty’s .233 average, and he will also get on base more as he is very patient at the plate. If Shoppach stays on the team, Lavarnway will stay in Pawtucket. If not, expect him to stay the rest of the season in Pawtucket then be promoted once rosters expand in September.
Slick fielding shortstop Jose Iglesias has fallen on tough times of late. He is only 9 for his last 43 (.209), with no extra base hits over that time. On the year, he is batting .251 with 21 RBI and 1 HR. It has been an up and down year for the young Iglesias, being a very streaky hitter. His best stretch came in June, when he hit .341 in 20 games played. His numbers aren’t great, but they are better than last year, when he hit at only .235. He is still developing as a hitter, and there is no need for him to rush into action. His time will come soon for major league action, but he is still progressing and needs more time in triple-A.
Pawtucket has 3 games with 1st place SWB after yesterday’s rainout. Pawtucket needs to do well against them in order to move into first place. It is a tight battle between these teams and Lehigh Valley to make the playoffs. If the season ended today, Pawtucket would be the IL wild card team and make the playoffs back to back years. With a new pitching staff and an ever changing roster, this is all but guaranteed. The trade deadline is unpredictable, and no one knows how much of a hit the roster could take. That being said, a new player or two could strengthen the team. It is part of what makes minor league baseball so frustrating but so great.