This kind of velocity drop doesn’t just happen in someone like Lackey, who has been used to the rigors of a major league workload for years now, without there being some kind of underlying issue.
CHIPPER, Baseball Prospectus’s injury forecasting system, projected Lackey as a moderate risk to miss 15-plus days this year, and a moderate risk to miss 30-plus days as well. There is a very real chance that something is amiss with Lackey on the injury side of things.
Fast-forward to yesterday, and Lackey was placed on the 15-day DL with an elbow strain. Now, there is surely something wrong here, as we noted after seeing his persistent velocity drop, but Lackey also needs a mental break to refocus. Because of that, this stint could be good for him on two fronts.
Tim Wakefield was slated to take over for Lackey last night, but with the rain out against Baltimore, he won’t have to take the mound until the next time through the rotation. Wakefield isn’t an ideal option, but when compared to an understandably distracted and now injured Lackey, he looks like a good plan B.
The Red Sox need a plan B for Daisuke Matsuzaka as well, as he is also heading to the DL for an elbow injury. In his case, it’s a sprain, and while he is reporting no pain, his velocity has been off and his command has been all over the place, much like Lackey’s.
We shouldn’t be surprised he is hitting the DL–in the spring, we detailed his extensive injury history in the states–but at the same time that Lackey is gone, when the Red Sox don’t have a day off after tonight’s unscheduled one for another 15 days, the timing is just poor.
Luckily, the Red Sox have Alfredo Aceves to take his place in the rotation in the meantime. Aceves has thrown 17 1/3 innings in the majors this year, striking out 4.7 per nine and walking 3.1 per nine while allowing three homers (you may be wondering why I used the word “luckily” to start this paragraph right about now). It’s a 17 inning sample, so it’s hard to get worked up about, especially when his career numbers in the majors–six whiffs per nine, a 2.7 K/BB ratio, 3.45 Run Average, 1.1 HR/9–are solid.
Aceves is no ace by any means, and may not even be a good option as a full-time starter, but as far as seventh options for the rotation go, you could do a lot worse. There are teams using worse pitchers than Aceves as fourth and fifth starters–the Sox desire to avoid another 2010 by adding even more depth has to be commended right about now.
Aceves was already on the big league roster, though, so the Sox had a spot to play with. They called up former top prospect Michael Bowden from Pawtucket to fill Aceves’ slot in the bullpen. Bowden, as you may remember, has ditched his curve and added a cutter, and is in his first season of full-time relief. His success has been noteworthy, with 28 strikeouts in 22 innings pitched out of the pen, and against just four walks, too.
Bowden has some of the same problems he has always had: lefties have been and seem to be remaining a problem, and he is an extreme flyball pitcher in a division where that sort of thing fails to go unpunished. Now is as good of a time as any to see if he has major league stuff, though–you can’t ask for much more than 11 strikeouts per nine and a K/BB of 7.0 out of a Triple-A reliever.
Given the cutter and what appears to be improvement, Bowden should be able to do better than last year’s 4.70 Run Average and 11.7 hits per nine. My one worry is that part of his success stems from the competition and Bowden living in the strike zone with pitches he won’t get away with in the majors. That might be the 12.4 hits per nine and .377 career BABIP in the majors talking, but it’s a valid concern–unless that cutter is the out pitch he has been missing since his curveball vanished on him, anyways. Then maybe it is a brand new Bowden.