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Franklin Morales impresses again, makes case to stay in rotation

08.05.12 at 10:56 pm ET
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If the Red Sox are going to mount an improbable climb into a playoff spot this season, their pitching simply must improve. With an offense that ranks in the top 10 in the major leagues in runs scored, batting average and slugging percentage, the scoring should come. It’€™s just a matter of if and when the pitching will do the same.

All season long, the Red Sox have desperately been searching for their pitching to do just that while also looking for an ace to show up. Jon Lester, their purported ace, is having the worst season of his career. Josh Beckett, who was expected to be next in line, is having just as bad of a time while also battling injuries.

At this point in the season, however, beyond looking for an ace to step up, what the Red Sox really need is wins. And if the Red Sox are going to get wins, they can ill-afford to look past Franklin Morales, a man who looked like nothing but an ace on Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park.

In June, Morales got his first chance to start a game for the Sox when Beckett was put on the disabled list due to shoulder inflammation. Morales pitched so well then that it forced manager Bobby Valentine to roll with a six-man rotation until shortly after the All-Star break.

Ultimately, Valentine put an end to that six-man rotation, which forced Morales back into his relieving duties. On Sunday, however, he got another chance to start, thanks to another Beckett injury that he sustained on Tuesday night against the Tigers and the arrival of left-hander Craig Breslow in a trade at the dealine.

And just like he did the first time, Morales made the most of his opportunity. In six innings of work on Sunday, Morales yielded just one run on three hits while striking out four to propel the Red Sox back to the win column for the first time in five days.

‘€œI’€™d like to talk about him a lot,’€ Valentine said. ‘€œHe pitched six great innings.

‘€œI was really impressed with the way he and [Jarrod Saltalamacchia] used all of his pitches. A lot of changeups for strikes. He threw a lot of curveballs that just missed, but they were effective. And his fastball was there for all six innings. It was very impressive.’€

While Morales was good for his first five starts of the season, he may have had his best outing on Sunday. While his numbers Sunday didn’€™t show a vast improvement from his previous starts, Valentine was impressed with the development of Morales’€™ pitch command.

‘€œHe was coming in and throwing his fastball away a lot, and now he’€™s throwing it in as well as away,’€ Valentine said. ‘€œIt looks pretty good.’€

Despite having only six starts, Morales has more scoreless outings (2) than any other pitcher on the Red Sox staff. Among Red Sox pitchers with at least six starts, Morales has the best ERA, with a 3.06 ERA in the games he has started. And among American League left-handers, he only trails David Price and Chris Sale for the most scoreless outings with no more than three hits allowed.

So will Valentine keep him in the rotation for the rest of the season?

‘€œI like him as a starter,’€ Valentine said. ‘€œWe know that. Right now, I don’€™t think we have to do anything with Franklin and make any total determination. We have a tough Texas team coming in right now, our bullpen is a little wobbly and we’€™re a guy short and all of that good stuff, so we’€™ll play it by ear.’€

Whether or not he starts doesn’€™t matter to Morales, though. He just wants to help the team in whatever way he can.

‘€œThat’€™s not my decision,’€ Morales said. ‘€œI’€™m here for the team, to help the team in any situation wherever they need me.’€

If the Red Sox want to make the playoffs ‘€“ something that remains within striking distance ‘€“ they may need Morales to stay in the rotation. And with several different factors playing into that decision, it may seem difficult to make that call on the surface. Valentine, however, doesn’t think so. He wants him as a starter and will explore every possible avenue to make that happen.

‘€œI think it’€™s an easy decision,’€ Valentine said. ‘€œWe just have to figure out all of the other parts. He wants to start, I want him to start, we just have to figure out how. ‘€¦ He’€™s been lights out out there.’€

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