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On Baseball

Orioles get jump on Red Sox in trade game

The Orioles were sitting 3.5 games behind the Red Sox after Tuesday’s games.

Doug Kapustin/REUTERS

The Orioles were sitting 3.5 games behind the Red Sox after Tuesday’s games.

The Orioles struck first with a trade, and on the surface Tuesday’s deal was a good one as they acquired veteran righty Scott Feldman from the Cubs along with catcher Steve Clevenger for righthander Jake Arrieta and reliever Pedro Strop.

We’ve written how starting pitching, health, and in-season moves are likely the determining factors in whether a team can win a division or make the playoffs. Although the Red Sox made their due diligence call to the Cubs on Feldman, they aren’t quite ready to pull the trigger.

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The Orioles made a good deal. The Sox, for now, decided to stand pat.

“Scott is having a very good year,” Orioles general manager Dan Duquette said. “We were looking for starting pitching, someone to give us consistent work in our rotation, and we feel we got a good one in Scott Feldman.”

Scott Feldman is moving from the Cubs to the Orioles.

Frank Franklin II/AP

Scott Feldman is moving from the Cubs to the Orioles.

Duquette is probably right. What was good for the Orioles at this time wasn’t necessarily good for the Red Sox at this time. The Sox seem to be in wait-and-see mode. They want to find out how quickly and effectively Clay Buchholz comes back from his neck strain, which has kept him out of action for three weeks.

They want to gauge how effective Allen Webster can be as he gains more experience, and whether Felix Doubront can develop consistency to his starts.

The Sox are second to the Tigers in starters’ ERA, so while they are solid, the Orioles needed some stability. If the Sox can add someone who could put them over the top, they would do it. They also may be monitoring the Matt Garza market with the Cubs, and they could be determining if a deal with the Phillies for Cliff Lee makes sense given the huge dollars still on his contract.

The Orioles are right on Boston’s heels in the standings, but they dropped to three games back in the loss column and don’t forget, the teams close out the season with a three-game series in Baltimore that very well could determine the American League East race and/or a wild-card berth.

The competition between these teams is going to be fierce. Did the Orioles just gain an advantage, if not on the field, then psychologically, by dealing for Feldman?

“I think when you have a number of players who are having a good year like we are, you have to address the needs of the ballclub and put your focus on this year’s club,” Duquette said. “And this year’s ballclub needs more stable starting pitching, and that’s what this trade is designed to address.”

Feldman, 7-6 with a 3.46 ERA, has been both a reliever (for the Rangers) and a starter. In 2009 he was a 17-game winner for Texas and he was 1-0 with a 3.29 ERA in nine postseason appearances in 2011 when the Rangers went to the World Series. Feldman also has pitched very well at Camden Yards, with a 3-0 record and 2.49 ERA in seven games.

The Orioles got themselves a hot pitcher — Feldman has nine quality starts out of 15 outings this season and has gone at least six innings in 10 of his past 12 starts. He’ll make his Orioles debut Wednesday at the White Sox.

“He’s a proven veteran starting pitcher, and he’s pitched very well in this ballpark [Camden Yards],” Duquette said. “He’s pitched in the postseason, he won 17 games once, and he is on his way to having a good year this season.”

Feldman signed with the Cubs for one year and $6 million, so he’ll be a free agent after the season.

The Orioles simply had gone as far as they could with Arrieta, hoping against all hope he would emerge as the top-of-the-rotation starter they envisioned. But it never materialized, and the time had come for a change of scenery.

The Cubs would like to keep Arietta and see if a change of location and league can bring out what the Orioles never got.

Strop was lights-out for the Orioles last season, but he couldn’t locate this season. The Cubs would flip him if there’s interest.

The Orioles probably just acquired the equivalent of Ryan Dempster. And that’s valuable for them. Feldman isn’t going to be at the head of the rotation class, but he’s going to make the middle of the rotation solid and give the Orioles a chance to win every fifth day. That’s something that has been hit or miss for them most of the season.

The Red Sox are waiting for the aces, Buchholz and Jon Lester to start clicking as they did when the team started the season 20-8. But give the Red Sox credit — they’ve been able to get by and excel with middle-of-the rotation guys such as Dempster and John Lackey, who Tuesday night again pitched a very strong game — eight innings, one run, and six hits in a game Koji Uehara saved in the ninth.

Lackey was asked whether he had any regrets about not having his Tommy John surgery earlier and he said, “We were having a great year the last year I pitched, for most of it. I thought we had a chance of doing something special so I wanted to be a part of that.”

Early in the game, Lackey was throwing 95-96 miles per hour. He leveled off at 93, more than enough velocity and certainly better than the 86-87 he was throwing before his surgery.

“There’s been a lot of hard work, 18 months of rehab and work in-between starts and my arm’s feeling pretty good right now and it’s fun to let it loose a little bit and not feel anything,” he said.

With that production from Lackey, a consistent Dempster, a Lester who is bouncing back with a new delivery, a rising Webster, and with Alfredo Aceves in Pawtucket, the Red Sox don’t have to jump at the Feldmans and Ricky Nolascos of the world. They feel they have those types of guys already.

Where the Orioles may be tapped out with a $6 million pitcher, who knows what John Henry will authorize by the trading deadline? Henry has said he’s not going to spend like he has in the past, but if the Red Sox have a chance to win the division and all it would take would be an expensive acquisition such as Lee, would he authorize the expenditure?

The Rays got David Price back Tuesday night, so that’s a Cy Young Award-winning pitcher returning to their rotation. The Yankees also may do something dramatic before all is said and done, though Alex Rodriguez made his first rehab start in Single A Charleston, S.C., Tuesday night and could return after the All-Star break, which would give them the righthanded bat they’re looking for.

There’s a long way to go, with a little more than three weeks before the trade deadline.

But Baltimore has led off with a nice hit. We’ll see if it’s a home run.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.
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