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McGair: Boston may need some PawSox relief

April 7, 2011

Former Boston reliever Hideki Okajima is biding his time in Pawtucket right now.

The Red Sox have certainly provided plenty of grist for the mill. That’s what happens when you begin the season with unprecedented expectations (World Series or bust) only to stumble out of the gate with six straight losses. Agony doesn’t even begin to describe the early-season travails with your Boston baseball club.
We’re not about to declare that hope is lost, especially when you subtract six from 162 and end up with 156, which is how many games the Red Sox have left. Time is on their side.
And they’re finally at home today. This afternoon’s home opener against the Yankees marks the start of a 10-game homestand. We’re willing to bet that a lengthy stay at Fenway Park will make this dreadful beginning to 2011 a distant memory by the time the BoSox depart for Oakland two Mondays from now.
Still, 0-6 is tough to digest – not to mention open the floodgates for criticism. This is a Red Sox team that’s supposed to steamroll through the American League, one that Josh Beckett proclaimed at the onset of spring training has all the ingredients of a 100-win outfit? Rather than embracing the expectations that come along with a $160 million payroll, the Red Sox seem perplexed by it. That is not a good sign, no matter what time of year it is.
To suggest wholesale changes in player personnel with six games in the books is simply ludicrous. You can point fingers all you want, but know this: Carl Crawford will hit and hopefully John Lackey will pitch better today than he did against Texas. Things can’t get worse for Daniel Bard, can they? There are simply too many all-stars with proven track records on this roster to earnestly believe that things will stay down for long.
If there are changes afoot, the bullpen seems the logical area to start with. To pinpoint even further, the ground that Dennys Reyes is standing on appears very shaky. It’s so unstable that it’s not farfetched to think either southpaws Rich Hill or Hideki Okajima – both currently with the PawSox – will be thrust into the left-handed role that’s currently a glaring weakness for Terry Francona’s tribe.
In Reyes’ case, it doesn’t matter if the season is still in its infancy. He has been so dreadful that you have to belief that Theo Epstein is considering alternatives. The lefthanded reliever has faced 10 batters in four appearances and six have reached. Of the six lefthanded hitters he has faced, four have gotten on. Control has been an issue, with Reyes throwing only 17 of his 39 total pitches for strikes. That’s simply not getting the job done.
With Okajima and Hill, the Red Sox have options. The funny thing is that the Red Sox already had both pitchers under contract when they signed Reyes to a minor-league pact in early February. The possible lefty solutions were already in the fold, yet the Red Sox felt compelled to go get Reyes.
Were the Red Sox so disenchanted with Okajima his career-worst 4.50 ERA of a season ago that they were willing to put all of their eggs in Reyes’ basket? There has to be a good reason why the Sox and Okajima agreed to a $1.75 million contract, and surely it wasn’t to have the Japanese import carve up International League hitters.
Given that Reyes is going through a rough patch right now, it behooves Okajima to use his time in a PawSox uniform to show that he can still be a viable option.
“No,” said Okajima matter-of-factly, speaking through translator Jeff Cutler when asked if he sees himself as a lefthanded specialist at this point of his career. Okajima then asked if new PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler has mapped out how he will be deployed.
“It’s all about results for me, so I’ll do whatever I’m needed to do and everything I’m told to do,” he said, sounding like a good soldier if there ever was.
Okajima is right about one thing. Baseball is a game judged mainly on results. If you are performing up to par, there's no reason to worry. If the numbers are less than satisfactory, then there’s cause to look over one’s shoulder. The reliever currently filling the lefthanded need in Boston’s bullpen is not getting the job done. Reyes has opened the door for Okajima to possibly take his position.
In Okajima’s case, it’s more like reclaim what was once his.

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