PAWTUCKET – A Red Sox-themed game of dominos broke out at McCoy Stadium on Friday afternoon, with the playing surface stretching from the plush green grass in left field to the PawSox clubhouse.
As the Pawtucket hitters took their batting practice cuts, pitchers Franklin Morales and Andrew Bailey were positioned in front of the home team’s bullpen. The two injured arms were occupied with their long-toss program, though they made sure to stop every now again to check out the action in the batter’s box.
The scene was appropriate given that Morales and Bailey will take the mound in a rehab capacity for the PawSox on Saturday night. Morales is starting and on a 65-pitch limit. Bailey’s assignment includes one inning and/or 20 pitches.
Gary DiSarcina is unsure whether Bailey will be next in line once Morales’ night is complete, though the manager’s quote of “we like to get those guys in earlier than later” suggests that Terry Doyle figures to sit tight while the rehabbers take their respective turns on the mound. Had Saturday’s game been free of injured Boston arms, Doyle would have been in line to make his eighth start for Pawtucket rather than piggybacking Morales for the second time this week. The first instance took place last Monday night in Charlotte when Morales allowed one run in three frames and Doyle followed with a one-inning stint that featured five runs on five hits.
As DiSarcina clued the media in on Saturday’s pitching plans, Alfredo Aceves paced the clubhouse. He was a few hours away from making a start against the Gwinnett Braves, yet to the naked eye, Aceves didn’t seem in a rush to get in game mode, i.e. put on his uniform.
For Red Sox fans who remain uneasy about Aceves’ continued presence in the organization, let’s recall how this literary exercise began. Aceves still holds value as extra depth due to the uncertain position of the dominos ahead of him, namely Morales and Boston’s Felix Doubront.
Morales figures to need at least a couple more minor-league starts after Saturday’s turn. It’s clear that Boston prefers Morales to start, but given that he’s on the mend from a lower back strain that short-circuited his spring training, the ball club appears in no hurry to ratchet up his workload.
“To me, it’s about endurance and building up arm strength,” said DiSarcina. “If they’re out of whack one inch with their delivery, they can get hurt.”
Translation: Morales is still working his way back, hence why Aceves is still in the fold.
The day Morales gets the green light to return to the parent club, he could be barreling down on the domino that has Felix Doubront’s number on it. One has to wonder how much longer the Sox are willing to tolerate Doubront turning in lethargic outings similar to what he posted Thursday night in Tampa Bay (5 IP, 6 BB, 104 pitches).
All of Doubront’s problems, ranging from the diminished velocity, to his penchant to losing track of the strike zone, to his unsightly 6.03 ERA, can be traced back to attempting to catch up with his conditioning during the season. Blame the fact that the southpaw showed up to camp in less than desirable shape, which in turn has led to Boston pushing his starts back on several occasions.
If the Red Sox decide to pull the plug on Doubront – a few weeks in Fort Myers could be his next stop – they’ll likely first turn to Morales. And if he falters, or his rehab stalls, it could be time to pull out the Ace-ves up the team’s sleeve.
The domino marked No. 40 – as in reliever Andrew Bailey’s digit – will also set off a chain reaction. When he resumes closing duties in Boston, Junichi Tazawa will go back to pitching the eighth inning, with Koji Uehara handling the seventh-inning duties. Arms like Alex Wilson, Craig Breslow, Andrew Miller and Clayton Mortensen will all be subjected to a reshuffling that should put them in spots where they are most comfortable.
“That’s a little bit of that,” replied Bailey when asked about hitting the reboot button on Boston’s relief corps. “I think everyone is looking forward to getting back to the role that they had at the beginning of the season.”
As the dominos begin to tip, the Red Sox are hoping their pitching staff falls into place this year, rather than falling to pieces.