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Joel Hanrahan might be out, but Red Sox have other WBC concerns

01.09.13 at 11:06 am ET
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One down, a bunch to go.

Joel Hanrahan has informed Major League Baseball he will not be participating in the World Baseball Classic. This, undoubtedly, allowed for a huge sigh of relief from the Red Sox.

Now the team holds its breath as the majority of its starting rotation makes up its mind. In case you forgot, the memory of Daisuke Matsuzaka’s 2009 experience still stings.

It is believed that Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront were all on their respective countries’ provisional WBC rosters. Franklin Morales (along with David Ortiz) has, however, been identified by the Red Sox as ineligible due to lost time in 2012 due to injury. (Dustin Pedroia’s status for Team USA is also in question due to his recovering from finger ailments.)

But while they won’t publicly admit it, the Red Sox are desperately hoping Lester, Buchholz, Dempster and Doubront all find their way out of WBC competition two months from now.

Why?

Matsuzaka’s issues after pitching 14 2/3 innings in the ’09 World Baseball Classic is a good starting point. Matsuzaka spent almost the entire ’09 spring training away from the Red Sox, not pitching in an exhibition game for the team until March 30. He pitched well in the tournament — winning the WBC Most Valuable Player — and seemed decent in that initial spring start against the Braves.

But three weeks after throwing 249 WBC pitches, there wasn’t any question what toll the process had taken.

In April of that season, Matsuzaka was terrible, topping out at 91 mph while allowing a combined nine runs in 6 1/3 innings over his initial two starts before being shut down. After the pitcher’s second start of the season — a one-inning, five-run nightmare against Oakland — then-Red Sox manager Terry Francona said, “We knew that he was just, I don’t know if fatigued or what, but came out of the WBC and felt probably like he had ramped up too quick. All the things we were worried about.”

Matsuzaka wasn’t an isolated case.

Hanrahan, who tied with John Grabow for most WBC appearances in ’09, got off to a slow start while pitching for the Nationals, allowing at least one run and multiple hits in three of his first five appearances (all one-inning stints).

“I think the thing that got to me the most was the travel that early,” Hanrahan said Tuesday after being shown around Fenway Park for the first time. “You’re going from city to city. I flew back from Los Angeles and as soon as I got back I had to through another game, and then another game. The days off and stuff like that make it hard. That was definitely a factor of what I didn’t play.

“You’re going out there, going all out the second week of spring training. Some guys can do that, some guys can’t. I think I’ve learned over the years that it doesn’t take me five pitches to get ready anymore, it takes me eight. You have to do what’s right for your body and what’s right for your team.”

Some of the other most-used starters from the ’09 WBC also offer cautionary tales.

Carlos Silva, for example, was right behind Matsuzaka in terms of workload, pitching 12 1/3 innings. The righty went on to give up 15 runs over 22 innings in April before succumbing to injury.

As I wrote in an April 15, 2009 column (after Matsuzaka’s horrific one-inning outing against Oakland), “No longer will there be hypotheticals thrown around when it comes to Matsuzaka’s participation in the WBC. It is, officially, what it is. And the Red Sox are going to make every effort to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

And that’s exactly what we’re seeing now.

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