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Red Sox Notes: What to do with Wakefield?

01.15.10 at 8:43 am ET

Red Sox manager Terry Francona, prior to the Boston Baseball Writers Dinner on Thursday, said that he has not considered putting Tim Wakefield in the bullpen. Even though the rotation would currently appear to run five deep with Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz, the days when the knuckleballer would be hustled into a relief role seem like a thing of the past.

‘€œI haven’€™t thought about that a lot. He’€™s a starter,’€ said Francona. ‘€œHow that slots out, we don’€™t know yet.’€

That said, Francona didn’€™t have a blueprint for Wakefield. He avoided committing to a timetable for the pitcher’€™s start to the season, though he did put the knuckleballer in a separate category from John Smoltz (in 2009) and Wade Miller (in ‘€™05), pitchers who were held back by months at the start of the season.

‘€œI would be surprised if he’€™s real far behind, if any,’€ said Francona.

–While Jeremy Hermida suggested that he is “excited to play some real baseball” now that he has moved from the home of the empty orange seats in Florida to the packed houses of Fenway, his role appears ill-defined. The Sox believe that the 26-year-old retains significant offensive potential, and that he will probably reach it with some club.

Whether or how he might do so in Boston this year remains unknown. Francona was admittedly uncertain about the outfielder’€™s job description for the coming year.

‘€œI don’€™t know. I don’€™t know. Good question, bad answer. He’€™s a left-handed hitting outfielder,’€ said Francona. ‘€œWe could always move Jacoby [Ellsbury] to center when [Mike] Cameron doesn’€™t play. J.D. [Drew] has missed games in right, we know that. So there is a fit there.

‘€œBut I can’€™t sit here today and say Jeremy Hermida does this. On one hand, I hope he gets an opportunity to play enough because I think he can do some things offensively. On the other hand, if he’€™s playing everyday, something went wrong somewhere else. But there’€™s a lot to like about what he can do. But I can’€™t sit here today and tell you where he’€™ll actually fit.’€

–Francona seemed either amused or bemused that Daisuke Matsuzaka, just a few years removed from being evaluated as one of the best pitchers in the world, has become an afterthought in his rotation. The right-hander, he noted, is just two years removed from a season when, ‘€œby hook or by crook,’€ he won 18 games with a sub-3.00 ERA.

There is little doubt that Matsuzaka’€™s 2009 season, when he went 4-6 with a 5.76 ERA in just 59.1 innings, represented a profound disappointment, not just for his numbers and his lack of availability but also due to his ideological clashes with the team over proper forms of preparation. But ultimately, the team believes that both the pitcher and his club will benefit from the pitcher’€™s pride to prove that he is still an effective pitcher.

‘€œHe’€™s almost at times fallen off from people’€™s thinking. He won 18 games the year before. It’€™s kind of out of sight, out of mind,’€ said Francona. ‘€œHe’€™s supposed to be pretty good. If he’€™s pitching in that four hole, or that fourth game of the season, he’€™s going to match up.’€

Sox officials were indeed surprised by Matsuzaka’€™s claim in a Japanese magazine that he had tried to pitch through a leg injury that caused his mechanics to suffer. But with the pitcher showing the commitment to spend the offseason working out at Athletes’€™ Performance in Arizona, the Sox believe that they are in a good position with the right-hander, and they are more focused on how he fares going forward than on any head-scratching statements about the past.

–Francona has been in touch with Jed Lowrie, whom he described as ‘€œcautiously optimistic’€ about the recovery of the left wrist that required surgery and sabotaged his 2009 season. The manager believed that the infielder had begun swinging, though it will be difficult to gauge the switch-hitter’€™s health until he is subject to daily activity in spring training. In some respects, only game activity will offer insight into Lowrie’€™s health, since he appeared to be recovering well last summer until he aggravated the wrist on check swings in games.

–Francona said that Mike Lowell’s situation would remain unresolved until he proved that he is healthy in spring training.

Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jeremy Hermida, Tim Wakefield,
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