CHICAGO - Franklin Morales was surprised when Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine pulled him aside Saturday and said he would be starting against the Cubs Sunday night.
Morales has not started a major league game since April 21, 2009, when he was with the Rockies. He has pitched only in relief since, often for just one or two batters.
But the 26-year-old lefthander didn’t balk at the assignment to replace the injured Josh Beckett, who went on the 15-day disabled list with what the Red Sox are describing as shoulder inflammation.
“I’ll try and do my job,’’ said Morales. “I’ll go as long as I can go.’’
Morales is somewhat prepared. He went 4 1/3 innings and threw 52 pitches against the Blue Jays on June 3, and three innings and 36 pitches against the Nationals on June 9.
Morales has not pitched since and Valentine believes he can go five innings Sunday, if not six.
“He’s pitched multiple innings,’’ said Valentine. “He’s pitched ahead in the count with quality stuff. See if he can’t give us multiple innings again.
“I think he can pitch more than five. Whatever he gives us should be enough.’’
Morales was 5-4 with a 4.46 earned run average in 15 starts for the Rockies. One of those starts was against the Cubs early in the 2008 season. Morales went six innings and allowed three runs. Current teammate Rich Hill started for the Cubs that day.
Morales said he is a better pitcher now than when he was used as a starter.
“Before, I was younger,’’ he said. “I tried to do too much. Now I have my stuff and I can take the hitter out. My command, I’m consistent with my pitches.’’
As to how long he can go, Morales ventured no guesses.
“I’ll try to do my job,’’ he said. “I’ll try to make my pitches. If I feel consistency with what I’m doing, I’ll let [Valentine] know if I can keep going.
“I’m going to try to do what I can do and try to control what I can control - throw strikes and try and take the hitter out.’’
Morales has allowed one earned run in 11 innings on the road this season, another good reason to give him a shot against the Cubs.
“I feel confident,’’ he said.
Morales joked that the only downside to starting was that he would miss talking to Vicente Padilla in the bullpen.
“I can’t say what we talk about,’’ he said. “Padilla, he’s loco.’’
Extra rest needed
The first option for the Sox Sunday was Clay Buchholz, who could go on his usual four days of rest, then get an extra day before his next start. But the righthander said he preferred to pitch Tuesday against Miami at Fenway Park and get the extra time off.
“Clay felt he needed the extra days,’’ Valentine said. “It’s that time of the season where guys can get a blow if they can work it in and I totally understand that.’’
Buchholz has thrown 24 innings and 336 pitches in his last three starts, over a span of 12 days.
Buchholz beat Miami last Tuesday, allowing one run over seven innings. But he has a 4.67 ERA in 13 career starts with six or more days of rest.
Answering the call
Righthanded reliever Clayton Mortensen replaced Beckett on the roster. The 27-year-old was with the Sox from May 2-9 and allowed one earned run over 9 1/3 innings in three appearances. He struck out 12 without a walk.
Mortensen was 4-2 with two saves and a 2.39 ERA in 15 games for Pawtucket. He said the experience he had in May quelled any jitters he might have had.
“Absolutely,’’ he said. “I’ve been going up and down the last few years. So you get used to coming up.’’
Carl Crawford took another step forward in his rehabilitation from an elbow injury, throwing from 110 feet and throwing “really well,’’ according to Valentine. “I’ve got to think he’s getting pretty close to playing in a baseball game,’’ the manager said . . . Dustin Pedroia is 6 for 45 (.133) since missing six games with a torn muscle in his right thumb. But Valentine believes his second baseman is healthy and has swung the bat better than the results indicate. “He says the thumb is a total non-issue,’’ Valentine said. “I don’t know where I can go from there. There’s no swelling.’’ . . . Righthander Aaron Cook is scheduled to begin a rehabilitation assignment with Pawtucket Monday by starting at Syracuse . . . Cody Ross was 1 for 3 in Pawtucket’s 8-5 win in Buffalo on Saturday. Mark Prior struck out two in a perfect ninth for his first save . . . Outfielder Chih-Hsien Chiang was designated for assignment by the Mariners. He is one of the prospects the Sox gave up in a three-team deal last season to obtain Erik Bedard from Seattle. Chiang never advanced beyond Triple A with the Mariners.
A special visit
Longtime Jimmy Fund “play lady’’ Lisa Scherber led a group of 39 teenage Jimmy Fund patients to Wrigley for Saturday’s game. More than a dozen Sox players visited with the patients and signed items in an hourlong meet-and-greet session in the stands before the Sox took batting practice. Cubs president Theo Epstein spent more than a half-hour with the group, speaking with each patient. The trip has been sponsored by Red Sox limited partner Michael Gordon’s family foundation for the past nine years. “I think sometimes we forget how special and unique the Jimmy Fund-Red Sox partnership is,’’ said Scherber. “Every time we go to a new city, we ask if they have something like this with their team and none of them do.’’ The Jimmy Fund patients watched the game from the Budweiser Suite in center field.