Uh-oh. If Pedro Martinez’s predicament and John Burkett’s 15-day stint on the disabled list weren’t bad enough, the Red Sox last night suffered another setback when Dustin Hermanson, one of the most durable starters in the majors over the last five years, was forced out of a rained-out game against the Blue Jays with a strained right groin.
The severity of the injury may not be clear for a day or two. But no good can come of the development for the Sox, who seemed poised as recently as two weeks ago to start the season free of the injury epidemic that consumed them last year.
“It’s never a comfortable situation when it hits, and you hate for it to happen, but it does,” manager Grady Little said of the prospect of losing another starter. “We came into the season knowing we would probably use many more pitchers than the 11 we left spring training with. It looks like we might have to start right now.”
Hermanson, making his Sox debut, had overpowered the Jays in the first inning, striking out two and retiring the side in order with a fastball that reached 96 miles per hour and a jarring changeup. But as he was warming up to start the second, he slipped during his stride and felt a twinge in the groin. He said it tightened in his last three warmup pitches before he faced Carlos Delgado leading off the inning.
“The first pitch to Delgado, I could feel it quite a bit,” Hermanson said. “Then the second pitch I realized I needed to have [catcher] Jason [Varitek] come out.”
Trainer Jim Rowe joined them, as did Little, who wasted no time lifting Hermanson for Tim Wakefield with the count 1-1 on Delgado. Hermanson, who had expressed excitement about making his Sox debut, was visibly perturbed as he walked to the dugout. He said later he had felt more comfortable pitching than he has all spring.
“To come here in my first game in front of the Boston fans and feel that comfortbale,” he said, “it was kind of sad to leave because I wanted to stay out there so bad.”
The day before, Hermanson had proudly noted his history of limited medical woes in his five-year career. He spent 22 days on the disabled list in 1998 with a strained muscle in the left side of his back and was sidelined for 10 days in 1997 with a strained muscle in his lower back. But he has averaged 31 starts a season over the five years.
Should Hermanson miss a start, the candidates to replace him include Wakefield, Darren Oliver, and Juan Pena, who started the season at Triple A Pawtucket.
All for naught
The game, scheduled to start at 6:05 p.m., initially was delayed 1 hour 13 minutes. When it began, the teams played to a scoreless tie through one inning. But after Wakefield replaced Hermanson in the second, the knuckleballer fanned Delgado and Jose Cruz, then allowed a solo homer to Darrin Fletcher.
Trailing, 1-0, the Sox evened the score in the bottom of the inning when Varitek drove an opposite-field blast through a tough wind into the screen above the Green Monster off Toronto starter Luke Prokopec. But play was called at 8:01 p.m., after Johnny Damon flied to the warning track in right to end the second.
The teams waited another 1:27 for the rain to subside. By then, though, the field conditions had so deteriorated that plate umpire Derryl Cousins postponed the game, effectively erasing the action, including Varitek’s homer.
Little said the game may be made up as part of a split doubleheader when the Jays visit Fenway for a four-game series starting July 1. Otherwise, it could be rescheduled on a mutual off day.
Back for seconds
Despite a mandate placed on former general manager Dan Duquette to reduce last year’s payroll of about $110 million by 10 to 12 percent, the Sox have the second-highest payroll at $108.4 million, according to a survey by The Associated Press. The Yankees top the chart at $125.9. The Rangers are third at $105.3 million and the Diamondbacks fourth at $102.8 million. The lowest payroll in the majors belongs to the Devil Rays ($34.4 million).
Manny Ramirez, who is making $15.4 million in the second year of his eight-year, $160 million contract, has the game’s fourth-highest salary, behind Alex Rodriguez ($22 million), Delgado ($19.4 million), and Kevin Brown ($15.4 million). The average salary is $2.38 million. The figures include pro-rated signing bonuses.
Other highly paid members of the Sox are Martinez ($14 million), Nomar Garciaparra ($9 million), Damon ($7.25 million), and Oliver ($7 million).
Rehabbing in Florida for more than one game was more than Burkett could bear. “Staying in Fort Myers, you just get kind of dead and feel like you’re not part of the team,” he said after rejoining the club to prepare to come off the disabled list.
Burkett, a righthanded starter who posted a 0.90 ERA in spring training, came down with inflammation in his right shoulder and went on the disabled list March 21. He played long toss Tuesday, the first time he has thrown since he went on the DL, and again yesterday.
Little said Burkett, who signed a two-year, $11 million contract over the winter, is progressing well and may go on a rehab assignment in warmer climes next week. “It won’t be that long before he’s in a ballgame,” Little said.
Burkett went 12-12 with the Braves last year, with the NL’s third-best ERA (3.04). He said he is anxious to return, but wary about rushing back too soon. “I don’t want to hurt the team,” he said, “by going out there and getting blasted every fifth day and saying, `I’m a big man. I’m out here pitching through pain.’ “
If Little was perplexed about closer Ugueth Urbina pumping his fist triumphantly to punctuate a strikeout in the ninth inning Monday just moments after surrendering the go-ahead run to the Jays, he wasn’t letting on.
“That’s just the way he is,” Little said. “He’s a little bit animated out there at times.”
Asked if fans should expect a similar show from Urbina, Little said, “It’s hard to get on people’s personalities and their emotions unless they get plumb out of whack. I’ve got some emotions and characteristics, too, that maybe people don’t like in certain situations.”