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Red Sox notes: Cooking up another starting candidate?

03.10.12 at 7:54 pm ET

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox are starting their third turn of the rotation. Opening Day is now fewer than four weeks away. And so, it would seem, it would be difficult for someone other than the five candidates who have made two or three appearances this spring to assert himself as a starting candidate.

But that is precisely what Aaron Cook will try to do on Sunday. Cook has been healthy this spring, but the Sox elected to have him follow a conservative schedule this spring in deference to the fact that he’s dealt with shoulder issues in each of the last two seasons.

On the day that likely Opening Day starter Jon Lester makes his third start of the spring, in which he will stretch out to four innings, Cook will make his maiden appearance in Sarasota against the Orioles, pitching one to two innings.

It remains to be seen whether he has time to assert himself as a candidate for the Sox rotation by the time the team needs a fifth starter on April 11. Sox decision-makers are ruling him neither out nor in.

“You know, he’€™s in that running for the four or five starting guys. He’€™s one of the guys in there,” said Sox pitching coach Bob McClure. “[The calendar] may be an issue at some point. I don’€™t want to rush him. I want him healthy and so does he. He doesn’€™t want to go backwards either. We’€™ll just have to see on that. But I’€™m not going to rush him through it because he’€™s got a career still ahead of him.”

Manager Bobby Valentine likewise vacillated in discussing whether Cook had a shot at the season-opening rotation.

“Wow. Maybe. But probably not. But maybe,” said Valentine.

Cook, 33, went 3-10 with a 6.03 ERA last year. In a 10-year big league career with the Rockies, he is 72-68 with a 4.53 ERA. Though he is no longer a pitcher capable of working in the mid-90s with his sinker, McClure — who coached him in the Rockies system in both Single-A and Triple-A — said that he still has the stuff to succeed.

“Aaron was the only young guy I ever had who would start a a game out at 90, 92, in the fourth inning, he’€™s 94, 95, and in the seventh eighth or ninth inning, he’€™s 97 miles an hour. He’€™s the only guy I’€™ve ever seen do that with command and staying in his delivery,” said McClure. “Since he’€™s had some setbacks with some injuries, it doesn’€™t quite come out the same.

“But because of him being a veteran and he knows how to get people out, you know, those kind of guys can get people out easier than some guys with better arms just because they know they can do it and they’€™ve done it before. Experience and success and then, say you don’€™t throw as hard anymore, you can still get people out because you just know you can. You’€™ve done it before. It’€™s not as hard but he’€™s a guy that doesn’€™t throw a lot of pitches, gets a lot of groundballs.”

Andrew Miller threw long toss on Saturday and feels fine. He could throw a bullpen session as soon as Sunday.

Daisuke Matsuzaka is throwing well in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, though pitching coach Bob McClure is trying to work with the pitcher on his delivery to improve his command and also to diminish the strain on his shoulder. For more on that, click here.

Rich Hill reported that he felt great after mixing in curveballs (five of them, to be exact) over the course of a 40-pitch side session on Friday. He said that he has not been tentative while throwing, feeling that he’s been able to pitch at a 90 percent effort level, allowing his stuff to play while also remaining under control.

Franklin Morales reported that his shoulder is fine and that his nerves are soothed after he had a brief scare that there might be an irregularity with his heart (an issue first reported in the Boston Globe). He was investigated in Boston, and the matter was declared a non-issue.

Earlier in camp, Morales was shut down for shoulder weakness. That, too, is no longer a concern, and he has resumed a throwing program. The Sox do not have a definitive timetable for his rehab program, but are optimistic that even if Morales isn’t ready to open the year in the majors, he won’t be far behind his colleagues.

“There’€™s a plan for him. It’€™s not unreasonable to think he’€™s going to be charging hard when the season begins,” said Valentine. “Maybe not the first day of the season but the beginning part of the season.”

— On Friday night, Darnell McDonald came off the bench in the middle of the game and blasted a home run to left, then later doubled off the left-field wall. Could he recall another time when he’d come off the bench to hit a homer and then had a hit off the left-field wall?

Yes. Yes he could.

“April 20, 2010,” McDonald grinned, recalling the date of his Red Sox debut, in which he hit a pinch-hit homer and then had a walkoff single off the Wall at Fenway Park.

Stolmy Pimentel, who was shut down early in spring training with a lat strain, said that he’s much improved and has now progressed to throwing on flat ground. Will he be ready to start his minor league season on time?

“Hope so,” said Pimentel. “Maybe I’ll start on time.”

Read More: aaron cook, bob mcclure, Bobby Valentine, darnell mcdonald
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