TORONTO — One could understand why Red Sox manager John Farrell looked squeamish when he saw John Lackey clutch his right arm in the fifth inning of Saturday’s 5-0 loss to the Blue Jays. Over a period of four days last season while managing the Blue Jays Farrell lost three starting pitchers, derailing the team’s chances for good.
The initial news on Lackey’s injury, which was termed a biceps strain, was positive after the game, as the cramping had subsided and the strength tests were registering close to normal. Lackey will have an MRI Sunday in Boston.
He was making his first major league start since Sept. 25, 2011 vs. the Yankees, after a long road back from Tommy John surgery. He was pitching well, save for a two-run homer by J.P. Arencibia in the fourth, before he clutched his right biceps after a 2-2 pitch to Jose Reyes in the fifth.
But once in the clubhouse the pain started to work itself out. Lackey was sore in the biceps, the same type of soreness you’d experience if you had a prolonged cramp in your calf or thigh. He likened it to cramps he’s had in his hamstrings.
He likely will miss some time, maybe even go on the disabled list. Are the Sox equipped to handle an injury to a starter?
The likely replacement will be Alfredo Aceves, who was asked to come in cold in the fifth Saturday. He got all the warmup pitches he needed to get loose. He got out of the fifth, but then he allowed a three-run homer to Colby Rasmus in the sixth.
The Sox would have had more pitching depth had Franklin Morales, who missed a lot of spring training with a bulging disk in his back, been ready to go. But Morales is very early in his rehabilitation.
The Sox finally have good young pitchers at Triple A, but it doesn’t appear they will go to Allen Webster just yet, wanting to get him a few more starts at Pawtucket. Webster did pitch five shutout innings with five strikeouts in the PawSox’ Opening Day game vs. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
The Red Sox wanted to acquire a veteran pitcher they could keep at Triple A toward the end of spring training, but they never found the right guy. The Dodgers traded Aaron Harang to the Rockies for catcher Ramon Hernandez Saturday, which eliminated one veteran who might have helped them in a situation like this.
Last season, the Sox were able to dip down for Aaron Cook, although he finished 4-11. The Dodgers still have depth in lefty Chris Capuano, who is currently in the bullpen, and lefty Ted Lilly, who is currently on rehab assignment.
While the Sox felt good about their depth out of camp, the fact that someone was injured so soon brings to light the reality that while Webster is an excellent prospect and Rubby De La Rosa is also someone who is going to help the Sox this year, this situation could cause some problems right now.
Knuckleballer Steven Wright could be a possibility, but Wright was sent out of major league camp early so he could iron out some mechanics with his knuckleball. In his first start for Pawtucket vs. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre he allowed two runs over four innings.
The Sox have pitchers such as Terry Doyle and young lefty Chris Hernandez, but they don’t appear to be options at this point and there will likely be a 40-man roster issue to deal with should Lackey have to go on the DL. If it’s a real bad injury or a tear, they could put Lackey on the 60-day DL and then a 40-man spot would be open.
Neither Doyle nor Hernandez currently are on the 40-man. If Lackey’s injury is relatively minor and he needs a short DL stint, even if Aceves moves up to the rotation, the Sox would have to go with a 40-man guy to replace Aceves in the bullpen, someone such as Alex Wilson.
Daniel Bard is currently toiling in Double A Portland, where he allowed a two-run homer in his first appearance. Another pitcher on the 40-man roster, lefthander Drake Britton, allowed three homers in his Portland debut as well.
Clayton Mortensen was also stretched out during spring training, but his name has not been mentioned as a possible rotation choice, with the Sox preferring to keep him in the bullpen as the long man.
So the Sox are left with the unpredictable Aceves, who always has wanted to be a full-time starter. What the team can expect from him at this point remains to be seen.
Aceves showed good stuff at times in Saturday’s game, but his performance was erratic. One could blame it on having to come in cold, but as Farrell pointed out, he got out of the fifth. His problems came in the sixth when he walked two batters ahead of the Rasmus homer.
But that’s where the situation is. The Red Sox thought they had some depth, but they really don’t. Look for the acquisition of a veteran soon because their kids aren’t quite ready.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.