TORONTO — There simply isn’t any clarity regarding Boston’s pitching situation for next season. It makes for an uneasy feeling for fans, for the pitchers, for the people making what could be very important decisions that will impact the 2015 Red Sox.
It starts with the guy on the mound Monday night at Rogers Centre — Clay Buchholz, who pitched, well, like Clay Buchholz used to pitch. And it also has to do with the guy who couldn’t close out the game in the ninth — Koji Uehara, whom the Sox didn’t trade because they want him back as their closer, but who has been looking awfully tired lately and acknowledged that he’s having trouble locating his splitter.
If the Sox don’t have a good feeling of where Buchholz’s career is going, it’s not going to be easy to solve the pitching dilemma the team finds itself in after trading away Jon Lester, John Lackey, Felix Doubront, and Jake Peavy.
Buchholz had allowed at least five runs in four of his previous six starts, with a 7.05 ERA.
But Monday’s outing, his 22d start of the season, was much better. He pitched 8⅓ innings and left with a 3-0 lead. But the bases were loaded after a couple of seeing-eye hits and a walk to Jose Bautista, and Uehara couldn’t hold the lead, though the Red Sox prevailed, 4-3, in 10 innings.
Looking more like the good Buchholz than the bad one we’ve seen too often this year, Buchholz should have won this game. But in the ninth, Dustin Pedroia and Brock Holt collided going for a grounder that sneaked through, and that opened the floodgates for the Blue Jays to score three runs and tie the game, with Uehara allowing a tying two-run double to Edwin Encarnacion.
“I definitely don’t want to give it up in the ninth, but our offense backed me up. You want to go out and win every game you start,” said Buchholz, who was charged with three runs.
“I felt good with Koji coming in. Everybody has confidence in him.”
The outing was at least a big step toward a Buchholz rebuild.
“Fastball command was a little bit better,” he said. “I got into situations where I was able to make good pitches with the changeup, curveball, and cutter. When you throw three or four pitches for strikes, it makes it tough for the hitter to sit on any one pitch. And our defense played about as good as I’ve seen a defense play.
“The movement came back on the two-seamer tonight, but I threw a lot of four-seamers also.”
Buchholz pitched more like the guy who a year ago flashed a 1.744 ERA, which was the second lowest for a Red Sox pitcher in the live ball era, trailing only Pedro Martinez (1.742) in 2000.
Buchholz has left the Sox brass guessing as to whether he can be a top of the rotation starter for next season. Entering the year, the answer should have been a slam-dunk yes, given his past success and .606 winning percentage (63-41).
Another guy the Red Sox may be able to count on is Joe Kelly, acquired in the Lackey deal, and he came out of his last start, Friday night against the Mariners, because he tweaked his throwing shoulder.
Ideally, the Red Sox would love to have Buchholz and Kelly as middle-of-the-rotation starters, maybe with a kid at the back and two new front-end guys — perhaps Cole Hamels in a trade with Philadelphia and James Shields as a free-agency signing.
Based on performance, Brandon Workman and Allen Webster are not the answers. Rubby De La Rosa has a chance to be a back-end starter. Anthony Ranaudo has promise.
We have yet to see Matt Barnes, Henry Owens, and Brian Johnson in the big leagues. Maybe they’re better off being excellent on paper so the Sox can trade them before their value decreases.
The Red Sox have nine skilled young pitchers between Double A and the majors, and it is unknown if any of them can fill a slot in the starting rotation or bullpen.
Farrell also has a history with Justin Masterson from his Boston days. Farrell has always been a big fan, but Masterson, a pending free agent, has had a bad season and has been taken out of the St. Louis rotation.
Farrell also is a Workman fan.
“I look at him like this, how much has two additional months of pitching last year affected him into this year?” Farrell said. “Not only did he pitch after Labor Day, he pitched through Halloween. An additional month from the minor league season to the major league season is a long time. It delays the beginning of your recovery time and maybe there were lingering effects.
“Brandon has shown he’s been solid in a number of roles, but I would hate to take [out] a guy who we’ve seen go through a lineup three times and be very effective . . . I would want to see what the group thought and decided on whether he should he be a starter or in the bullpen. A lot will depend on who else we acquire in the offseason.”
That does make a big difference. Right now the Red Sox have a bunch of pitchers who look good on paper. So Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves are trying to figure it all out.
Maybe they aren’t sure which young guys can cut it. And maybe they won’t have to make such a decision.
“Is it answered very clearly by signing one or two guys?” Farrell said. “It’s like when Koji got into the closer’s role, everyone else fell into place. You put a guy ahead of it in the rotation and every one finds a spot. I don’t get caught up in 1-2-3, and those designations.”
“We all know where it starts and ends — right out there,” Farrell said pointing to the mound.
Farrell acknowledged that Buchholz’s starts are important. As the veteran pitcher in the group, he must get his act together and show he can be depended on.
That happened Monday night. He looked good. He looked talented. He looked like the old Buchholz.
There has to be more clarity, however. He must repeat this performance, and then and only then can Farrell and Ben Cherington really know what their pitching staff will look like in 2015.