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Saturday, May 22, 2004

Now that's a bad bullpen. The colossal meltdown of Toronto’s typically ineffective bullpen last night could have been billed as a Day of Remembrance for Sox fans. The eighth inning, featuring four Jays pitchers surrendering six runs on four hits, three walks, one hit batter, and fifty-one pitches to eleven Sox hitters played out as a tribute to the Sox bullpen of 2003. As pitcher after pitcher was summoned I imagined some kind of macabre awards ceremony, commemorating the '03 Summer of No Relief. It was Kerry Lightenburg's exaltation of the work of Chad Fox; it was Mike Nakamura glorifying past performances of Ramiro Mendoza, Robert Person, and Rudy Seanez.

The return to form of Sox only consistent bullpen standout from last season, Mike Timlin continues to be a source of elation. His performance was excellent and timely considering the disabling of Scott Williamson. Paul Harber has a nice piece on “the sheriff” in today’s Globe.

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If it is Theo Epstein's strategy to re-sign key contributors before resigning current Sox mega-stars then good on him. Signing Trot Nixon and David Ortiz to contract extensions acknowledges the team’s interest in maintaining a core and a competitive ballclub in the feature while resisting the temptation to ink Pedro or Nomar to a deal that would swallow up too much cash. Both Nixon – not withstanding his bout with injuries this spring – and Ortiz are reliable contributors, hard workers, and likable fellows. Both exude optimism and preach camaraderie. Both are in the prime years of their career. Theo appears to have rightfully prioritized this kind of signing before taking the risk of overpaying for Pedro or Nomar, MVP-type players in their prime, but potentially damaged goods physically and in the clubhouse. Jason Varitek, renowned by pitchers for his game calling and all players for his leadership in addition to rock-solid on the field play belongs with Nixon and Ortiz as a top-priority to re-sign. A couple of analysts, including Rob Neyer, however, cast doubt on the contributions that can be expected of Varitek, now 32, in the next several years of his career.


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Thursday, May 20, 2004

Bullpen Answers. Gordon Edes reports that Scott Williamson headed back to Boston today for an MRI on his pitching elbow. Apparently Francona hasn't forgotten Williamson's number, rather he's been keeping the reliever's arm troubles quiet.
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Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Postgame brief. Grumblings were abated tonight. On this site and others, many questioned Francona's bullpen usage. Bringing in Foulke for four outs tonight looked good to me, thanks. Second, Manny was apparently walking around the clubhouse before the game wondering why he doesn't hit for power anymore. Well, so much for that. A towering blast to center was a less than subtle reminder of Manny's power. Maybe he's just jealous because his homers are being outshined by the mammoth Otiz shots.

Final score, Red Sox 4, D’Rays 1.

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Monday, May 17, 2004

Bugs. It's coming...no, not the cicada infestation (that's already here in DC), but the gradual, creeping decline of the Sox due to the bite of the injury bug. The Red Sox have fallen from the best record in baseball on April 28 to a rather ordinary 22-16 today. Buoyant after winning six of seven from the Yankees, were we too quick with our confidence? Probably so. While the offense suffers immeasurably with the injuries of Garciaparra and Nixon there are other injury-related problems. Looking a bit under the surface, here are, in no particular order, three other apparent symptoms of the injury bug.

Too few experienced arms in the bullpen. I have to believe, as others do, that there is something physically wrong with Scott Williamson. He is pitching brilliantly, but is seldom used. Does Terry Francona fear agrivating some kind of unknown injury if he's over used? Add to that the absences of Ramiro Mendoza and BK Kim and you end up with a steady stream of Bobby Jones, Mark Malaska, Lenny DiNardo, Phil Seibel, and even David McCarty out of the bullpen. Malaska and DiNardo have pitched fairly well, but their use in close games that the Sox trail has recently led to games getting out of hand – see Sox losses to Kansas City, Cleveland, and Toronto over the last week and a half as examples. More liberal use of Williamson and a return to form by Kim would help the situation.

Bad, bad, bad defense. The defense has been so atrocious of late that Johnny Damon and others are actually making light of the situation. The biggest culprit: the usually reliable Bill Mueller who injured his elbow swinging a weighted bat in spring training. One wonders if this has caused the myriad errant throws from Mueller. Additionally, the injury to Nixon forces Francona to play the less sure-handed and slow-footed McCarty, Daubach, and Millar regularly in the outfield.

Fewer days off for regular sluggers. The addition of Ellis Burks to the Red Sox bench was designed to give Boston an experienced pinch hitter and occasional and the opportunity to rest Manny Ramirez or David Ortiz more frequently. With an already anemic offence, regular rest for Ramirez and Ortiz is impossible. This early in the season it's a minor matter – later, nagging injuries and fatigue could crop up. The Sox should be heartened that Burks is rehabbing faster than expected.

The Sox are 22-16 nearly a quarter of the way through the season and sit ½ game behind the Yanks. It's not a bad situation considering the injury bug's bite, but like the cicada infestation, let's hope it is over in short order.

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