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Red Sox notes: John Farrell says Red Sox don’t need rotation upgrade but depth test awaits

07.30.13 at 7:20 pm ET
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Manager John Farrell said that, given the early signs of promise from Tuesday night’s starter Brandon Workman, the Red Sox feel like they’re in a good place regarding their starting rotation.

The Sox have a 3.91 ERA (6th best in AL) since Clay Buchholz last started on June 8, a 4.05 starters’ mark (6th in the AL) and they’ve had quality starts in 25 of the 43 games they’ve played in Buchholz’s absence — a 58 percent rate that is nearly identical to the 59 percent mark the team achieved before Buchholz commenced his lengthy DL stint. And so, Farrell said that he believes that the team is in a healthy place with a starting five of Jon Lester, John Lackey, Ryan Dempster, Felix Doubront and Workman.

“I like our rotation. It’s been consistent,” said Farrell. “Brandon Workman has brought an element not only of intrigue but promise with the way he’s handled the first two starts. Granted, he might be short on experience, but he’s got all the physical abilities to continue to put up solid efforts. Hopefully that’s the case again tonight. You look at the way they’ve performed as a group, it’s a very solid group.”

Farrell said that Buchholz is making progress in building the intensity level of his throwing program. On Wednesday, the team hopes that he will be able to incorporate a fairly aggressive throwing program on flat ground, incorporating the crow-hop that he uses from 90 feet to warm up for games and throwing the ball at full intensity on flat ground. If that step is successful, then it could position Buchholz to pitch off a mound.

Still, there’s no timetable for the pitcher’s return. The Sox expect him back at some point, but aren’t sure precisely when. Yet despite that uncertainty, Farrell said flatly that he did not believe the Sox needed to make a move for a starter, and he doesn’t think Buchholz’s uncertain status needs to push the Sox to strike a deal.

“I can’t say [the absence of a return date for Buchholz is] an overriding and a primary factor,” he said. “We’ve got to let Clay’s situation rebuild and play out as to whatever it’s going to be. That doesn’t mean, because of an unknown date in the future, that’s more of an imminent approach towards acquiring a player.”

That’s not a problem if the Sox rotation remains healthy and productive. But if any of those five pitchers goes down, the Sox might face a challenging position from the standpoint of their starting depth. Allen Webster, in his last four starts (three in Triple-A, one in the big leagues) has allowed 21 earned runs, walked 11 and hit three batters in 14 2/3 innings.

Rubby De La Rosa is likewise struggling. his last five starts, he’€™s averaged just 3 2/3 innings, and he now has a 9.64 ERA with a jarring 8.2 walks per nine innings and more walks (17) than strikeouts (13). Opponents are battering him for a .315/.447/.548 line in that span.

“Part of me wants to say that there might be a little bit of stagnation going on with him at Triple-A, and maybe this [big league] stage might bring out the pitcher that we know is in there,” said Farrell, who said that the team would consider using De La Rosa either for starting depth or as a bullpen option. “That might be a little bit of a stretch, but we’d certainly be willing to take a look at that at the appropriate time.”

Knuckleballer Steven Wright, who has a 1.88 ERA in his last 36 1/3 innings in Pawtucket and the majors, is the other starting depth option. He has a pair of nine-inning, complete games in that span along with a big league relief outing in which he tossed 5 2/3 shutout innings against the Mariners.

With Workman in the big league rotation, Franklin Morales being rehabbed solely for relief work and Drake Britton quickly cementing a spot for himself in the Sox bullpen, the triumvirate of Webster, De La Rosa and Wright represents the extent of the starting depth options that the Sox have until Buchholz is healthy. That reality — the possibility of having one pitcher go down without a reliable (based on track record in the case of Wright and Webster, or recent history in the case of Webster and De La Rosa) alternative — represents the biggest factor that the Sox must weigh as they try to decide whether to make a move for a starter such as Jake Peavy or Bud Norris.

“We recognize that August will be our month of biggest challenge in terms of overall depth because soon after that we’re still hopeful and optimistic that Clay returns, and that would be as good of an addition as we could make at any deadline,” said Farrell.

OTHER RED SOX NOTES

– Farrell suggested that Jose Contreras, who has struck out eight in 4 2/3 no-hit innings spanning three appearances for Pawtucket since the Sox signed him to a minor league deal, is “certainly an option right now. Because of maybe the lack of need right now because we’ve been relatively healthy. We haven’t overtaxed the bullpen with either long games or short starts. We haven’t thought about changing guys out yet. But he’s certainly in the mix.”

Farrell said that the Sox will reassess where they stand with their bullpen in “this next day or so,” presumably after the dust settles from the trade deadline.

Franklin Morales had a strong rehab outing in Pawtucket on Monday in which he struck out the side and got swings and misses on five of 15 pitches. His velocity, Farrell said, was in the low-90s and he worked effectively to both sides of the plate with command. Farrell said that he will likely need at least two more rehab outings.

“You know we’re going to have to get through probably three appearances first and re-evaluate where things are, but don’t hold me to three appearances,” said Farrell.

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