The Boston Red Sox officially ended both the curse and the World Series drought 2 seasons ago. Last year fans took a deep breath, enjoyed watching their Sox pitchers battle into the post season and then watched the other Sox win it all. This year the Red Sox starting pitchers are out in full force battling it out first for a spot in the starting rotation and then hoping they have the stuff to take the Red Sox back into contention once again. Red Sox pitchers are in no short supply with more than a half dozen hopefuls looking to land jobs as relievers. But many fans and sports analysts are likely to focus their attention on those special five pitchers who take the mound in inning #1 and try to hold on as long as they can keeping opponents scoreless for as long as possible. Who will the Red Sox send out as their starting pitchers this year? Most likely they will be drawn from the list that follows.
1. Curt Schilling – At the top of anyone’s list of probable Red Sox starting pitchers is Curt Schilling. With a career ERA of 3.40 and undoubtedly bound for Cooperstown Schilling is in a class by himself. Schilling has dazzled the much vaunted Red Sox nation not only with his raw pitching ability but also with his peerless courage, ability to endure pain, and just plain guts. Not only will the Red Sox benefit from trotting Schilling out to the mound for every fifth game they play, but when he’s not pitching Schilling’s knowledge of the game will be a huge plus in the clubhouse. Like a second pitching coach, Schilling has the ability to give direction, support and inspiration to the rest of the pitching staff . The only difficulties with relying heavily on Schilling are his age and his previous injuries. But coming into spring training Schilling looked and announced that he felt great, like someone ready not just to take the mound on opening day but also ready for his share of starts in the months ahead. The Red Sox and their fans hope that’s exactly what happens.
2.Tim Wakefield – Among the potential Red Sox starting pitchers, Schilling is hardly the only one with buckets of experience. Tim Wakefield has been with the Boston Red Sox longer than any other active player. As the only knuckleballer on the staff and one of the few in the majors, Wakefield gives the Sox a unique weapon in its pitching arsenal. His dancing knuckler is a hard to hit contrast to the hard stuff and curves thrown by most of the Red Sox starting pitchers. But Wakefield also gives the Red Sox the luxury of having a pitcher whose durable arm can take them into the late innings of a game giving much needed rest to the sometimes overworked bull pen. While Wakefield has seen relief action in the past, his team leading 16-12 record from last year makes it hard to dismiss him as a likely member of the Red Sox starting pitchers rotation. The truly remarkable thing about Wakefield is that he has always made himself available to fill whatever role management sends his way. By so doing Tim Wakefield has made himself not only a consummate team player but also a very special fan favorite.
3. David Wells- With a pitching resume as long as your arm, on paper David Wells looks like a definite to pick up a starting pitchers assignment. But there is more to the David Wells story than wins and losses. While last season he showed flashes of his past greatness, Wells also had games that demonstrated his age and his susceptibility to recurring injury. Besides the questions marks raised by his inconsistency in 2005 Wells has raised a serious issue himself. During the off season it became clear to management that David Wells would be quite happy to be traded. Recently, perhaps after testing the market Wells has determined that he will finish off his major league pitching career with one more year of work with the Red Sox.There is no doubt that David Wells is still quite capable of making a serious contribution to a major league team . Now that he has resolved the issue of where he will make that contribution, to be an impact player all he needs to do is get and stay healthy and in shape.
4. Bronson Arroyo – Tall, slim, hip, talented all of these words have been applied to Bronson Arroyo. In addition to his ability as a hard throwing starter, Bronson is also a talented musician and performer. He has a relaxed demeanor and a variety of equally laid back hairstyles. But what can Bronson bring to the job of being a Red Sox starting pitcher? A lot! This year Bronson comes equipped not just with his big curve, his cool approach and his willingness to come inside to those who chose to crowd the plate. This year coaches can also believe that Bronson is also packing experience. No longer does he look and seem like the new kid on the block. That place has been taken over by others. Nor is he the veteran now ready to offer advice to one and all. In fact Bronson comes to training camp with lots of starts under his belt including two years in post season play. He is ready to come to work as an experienced, savvy starting pitcher somewhere in the Red Sox rotation. Sox fanatics are hoping in fact that for Bronson this is his break out year.
5 Matt Clement – After suffering a blow to the face from a come backer last year, Matt Clement did not have the season he and everyone in Red Sox Nation had hoped for. Though returning relatively quickly to the starting rotation after what looked like a possible season ending accident, Clement seemed to lack the fire and the productivity that had marked his pre-injury starts. This year the unspoken question by fans, coaches and possibly Clement himself is which Matt Clement will offer himself to the coaches for assignment as a starting pitcher? Will it be the confident, self-contained hurler or his out of sync, unfocused
spot missing look alike? There is no question that Clement has the talent to make a big difference as a starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and there is still a reservoir of support for him among staffers and fans. It remains to be seen if he has the maturity and the fortitude to put the struggles of last season behind him and step up once again to deliver on the promise he has already aptly shown.
6. Josh Beckett- The Red Sox may have acquired themselves a real winner in Josh Beckett. Sporting a 15-8 record and an awe inspiring ERA of .337 in 2005, Beckett has potential to be not only a member of this year’s starting rotation but perhaps a quality starter for years to come. Beckett’s success has been victimized occasionally by injury. Last season recurring bouts with blisters sent him to the DL and he was troubled by a muscle pull as well. But at 25 years of age Becket has fans and management hoping that he will put those setbacks behind him and emerge in 2006 as one of their bright and rising stars. In 1999 Josh Beckett was named by USA Today as High School Pitcher of the Year. Could there be a Cy Young award in his future? Sox fans would settle for a simple 20 win season.
7. Jonathan Papelbon – Filling out the list of potential starting pitchers is Jonathan Papelbon. He’s young. He’s big. He throws very hard and very well. In 2005 he wowed the hordes at Fenway – not an easy task- many hailing him as Schilling’s possible replacement. After the dust of last season settled fans and staff still see Papelbon as a young man on the rise. Not only are his pitching skills considerable, his psychological approach to the game is solid. In his few appearances last season, often in key spots in a game, Papelbon showed remarkable poise, concentration, confidence and self control. Not someone to dissolve after a bad pitch or a bad call, Papelbon was noticeable for his consistent, one pitch at a time approach, an approach that fits in nicely with the one game at a time approach of Manager Francona. Perhaps the one thing keeping Papelbon from that permanent starters roll was the efficiency with which he delivered out of the bull pen last year. If management decides to cobble together a starting rotation that doesn’t include Papelbon, he will undoubtedly become the go to guy among the relievers.