Two chin shots in the opening minute of a twelve round fight? I feel like Marvin Hagler must have felt in the first Tommy Hearns fight. I mean, this season has just started and already I am a big foggy.
Just to recap, Wednesday involved a late inning lead over the Yankees that turned into a Busted Bard and a Cinco Ocho mistake in extras. And tonight, Oki enters in the 8th, gives up a cue ball double, Bard walks a bum, Bard gets the big K but the winning run moves to second, and then Bard gives up a sawed-off flare to score two. Feeble rally in the ninth to no avail. Ballgame. 4-3 loss. Ouch.
As this one sinks in, just about the best and only thing you can say is last season started terribly as well. For those needing a refresher course, a year ago, the Sox started 2-6 as they headed into a matinee in Oakland with Timmy on the mound. This year …..one and three as they head to into a Beckett-Greinke matchup. I wonder if Greinke slept well knowing that Jason Varitek will be catching and hitting 8th tongiht.
As this season started, I mentioned in my Happy New Years piece that I had concerns about the bullpen. But I was talking about its depth and not the backend. Specifically, I mused that Ramirez and MDC were going to be problems and the Sox would probably have to upgrade their middle relief at some point along the way. And yes, I too harbored concerns that the novelty of Hideki Okajima could wear off at any moment. After all, right-handers started to figure him out in a big way last season and I have watched baseball long enough to know that a warning sign like that cannot be ignored when you are discussing a reliever.
All that said, my worries did not extend to Danial Bard and Jonathan Paplebon. Well, after four games, the question before me is: should I be worried?
I’ll start with Papelbon. Yes, he gave up a long ball that stung and yes, his final outing of 2009 was a mess. But I am not ready to claim that Cinco Ocho suddenly turned in to 2005 Keith Foulke. He isn’t hurt. He doesn’t lack confidence. He is still throwing hard. So no, I am not going to lose much sleep over Jonathan Paplebon.
But Bard is another story. The two run-scoring hits don’t really bother me. One was a weak flare and the other simply found a hole. But the walks are another story. Three in four innings is a bit unseemly. And here is my concern. Bard was known to have some head issues coming up. And he doesn’t exactly have a vault of MLB confidence from which he can draw. As such, if this kid runs into some bad luck, he might go Clay Buchholz on us. Nibbling at corners with 99 MPH gas. Dicking around with changeups because he is worried someone might catch up to his sizzle. That would be a shame because this kid has top-shelf heat and a tight bender that is often beautiful. Keeping him on the straight path is critical and that is why I am a bit worried that he is now driving in the bicycle lane.
Other thoughts from last night …….
* God Bless Tim Wakefield. I know it’s the Royals, but this guy can still do it, particularly in April when the cold weather, I’m guessing, might help his grip or flutter. The numbers don’t lie. Last season, Wake was tremendous in April and over his career, April leads July as Wake’s best for ERA. One explanation for that is that it seems Wake gives up fewer bombs early in the season. Unfortunately, last night was an exception. Regardless, nice outing by the old guy.
* Should the Sox have walked Ankiel to load the bases and pitch to a right-hander? I think Francona made the right call. After all, it’s Rich Ankiel we are talking about, not George Brett. Yes, he had three hits prior, but getting hits of a knuckler is hardly relevant to getting hits off a guy like Dan Bard. Hey, the guy got hardly any wood on a two-strike pitch and hit it where we ain’t.
* The Sox were 1-8 with RISP and are now 7 for 37 on the season? Basically, the Sox have left three or four hits on the table and that has cost them a couple games. This is certainly not a good sign, but its early and these thing tend to iron themselves out.
* David Ortiz has five whiffs in 15 plate appearances. I guess Ortiz will get the night off as the Sox will go with Varitek behind the plate and either Victor Martinez or Jeremy Hermida at DH. Varitek against Greinke is the surest 0-4 you will find anywhere in baseball today.
* Good news and bad news from Portland ….. Lars Anderson had a couple of knocks but Ryan Kalish left the game in the 8th with an apparent shoulder injury. I have no idea whether it’s serious and it may be nothing but that is just what the Sox’ system needs right now …. another top-shelf outfield prospect getting grounded.