Boston Red Sox: Michael Bowden




FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Takeaway from the Fort, where the Boston Red Sox were clubbed, 10-5, by the Philadelphia Phillies, in a split-squad game at JetBlue Park:

Alfredo Aceves was lit up for 10 hits, including 3 home runs, and 9 runs in 3 innings. He walked a batter, hit another, and threw a wild pitch. His pitches were up, he had trouble locating, and when he did throw a strike, it caught too much of the plate -- and Phillies' bats.

"He looked out of sorts from the get-go," said bench coach Tim Bogar, who managed this split squad of Sox players while Bobby Valentine was in Jupiter.

What does it mean? Well, neither Valentine nor pitching coach Bob McClure were here -- they were watching Felix Doubront, who was terrific in Jupiter -- so if they needed to make up their minds on Aceves, that wouldn't have happened.

Bogar called it a "hiccup," a rational notion given the superb way Aceves has pitched most of the spring, adding that "we haven't seen that since last August."

"A guy like Aceves, you should look at his track record,'' Bogar said. "He's shown us he can pitch.''

Aceves adopted a similar posture: "One outing is not going to tell you the value of a pitcher," he said.

Aceves walked leadoff batter Shane Victorino on four pitches to open the game. Juan Pierre swept a ground-rule double into the right-field corner, and after Aceves got away with a high slider to strike out Hunter Pence, he threw a wild pitch to Laynce Nix to score a run. John Mayberry Jr. lined a 400-foot single off the center-field fence for another run, Pete Orr and Freddy Galvis opened the second with back-to-back home runs, and Carlos Ruiz hit another home run to lead off the third.

"This is one of those days nothing went good," said Aceves, adding after his news conference, "I wasn't on the same page with myself."

Aceves wasn't alone. Dustin Pedroia dropped an easy throw at second, something that may not have happened since he played at Woodland High.

Darnell McDonald and Jacoby Ellsbury both made off-target throws to cutoff men, with shortstop Mike Aviles lunging to spear Ellsbury's throw, then losing a footrace to Juan Pierre to second base while Victorino strolled home from third. Michael Bowden relieved Aceves and gave up hits to three of the first four batters he faced, a run scoring.

Good news? Vicente Padilla made his first appearance since straining his hamstring, and looked dynamic in a scoreless inning of relief, his first since Valentine told him he was out of the mix--for now, anyway--for a starting job. Franklin Morales and closer Andrew Bailey also had a scoreless inning apiece.

Shortstop competition: Aviles had two hits, including a double, and is batting .293, while the rookie, Jose Iglesias, 0 for 3 in Jupiter, is now 1 for his last 13 and batting .174.

Check back later to read my thoughts on the rotation.

Bowden feels the heat

August, 15, 2010
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- When Red Sox reliever Michael Bowden entered Sunday’s game against the Texas Rangers in the bottom of the eighth inning, Boston still had a chance for a comeback.

The Sox were trailing by two runs when the right-hander was summoned from the bullpen with no outs and a runner on first. Bowden quickly recorded two strikeouts, but a throwing error on a pickoff attempt advanced the runner to second.

He then allowed three straight hits as the Rangers gained a 7-3 lead and went on for the win. It was the first run Bowden has allowed in 3 1/3 innings of relief work during his two stints with the Red Sox this season.

“I don’t know if the throw to first bothered him or not, but all of a sudden the inning kept going,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “We didn’t stop the bleeding. His stuff was pretty good and hopefully the experience will help.”

“After the error happened, it happened. I don’t worry about that. There were a couple of infield singles and one hard-hit ball,” Bowden said. “I left a couple of pitches up, but I still felt like I was making pitches and doing what I could.”

After the bad throw, the 23-year-old right-hander got the ground ball he was looking for, but Taylor Teagarden hit it far enough in the hole between short and third that shortstop Marco Scutaro had to go a long way to make a play.

“I knew it was going to be a close play, I was hoping he would make the play,” Bowden said. “Obviously it was a tough play in the hole and Scoots did all he could.”

Bowden was called up from Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday and this was his first trip to Texas. It was so hot at game time, the relievers spent the first two innings in the clubhouse before making their way to the bullpen in left-center field.

“Oh, man, it was scorching out there today,” he said. “It was exhausting out there.”

Bowden is ready for anything

August, 14, 2010
8/14/10
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- When the Red Sox optioned right-handed reliever Michael Bowden to Triple-A Pawtucket on July 23, manager Terry Francona said he would have preferred to keep the pitching prospect in Boston’s bullpen.

Unfortunately, Bowden was a victim of the numbers game then and he was the odd-man out. But since Francona needed to blow out his bullpen in a 10-9 loss to the Texas Rangers in 11 innings on Friday -- and with Jacoby Ellsbury placed on the DL again Saturday due to reinjuring his ribs against the Rangers -- Bowden was recalled.

Bowden, 23, received a phone call from PawSox manager Torey Lovullo around 1:30 on Saturday morning, informing him of his second promotion to Boston this season.

“It was a long night, but I’m glad to be here,” said Bowden, who flew to Texas on Saturday.

Since the Red Sox organization decided to convert Bowden into a reliever, he’s 2-0 with one save and a 2.81 ERA in 12 relief appearances for the PawSox.

“A few outings, I didn’t get the results I wanted, but I’ve been throwing the ball really well,” Bowden said. “I feel great. I feel strong.”

During his first stint with the Red Sox this season, Bowden worked 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief and allowed three hits with one walk and two strikeouts.

It gave Bowden a confidence boost to hear that Francona did not want to send him down to the minors at the end of last month.

“It’s very encouraging, especially coming from Tito, knowing he has confidence in me to come up here and help the ballclub win,” Bowden said.

A native of Illinois, this is Bowden’s first trip to Texas. He said it should be interesting sitting in the bullpen the next couple of days in the 100-degree heat.

Because Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard won’t be available to pitch tonight, it’s a safe bet Bowden will be in the game unless starter Jon Lester mixes in a complete game.

“I’m ready to do whatever they want me to do,” Bowden said.

The Red Sox will carry 13 pitchers on their roster until second baseman Dustin Pedroia is activated on Tuesday.

Report: Bowden summoned from Triple-A

August, 14, 2010
8/14/10
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- There’s still no update on injured Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury at this point, but according to a report, it appears reliever Michael Bowden has been recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket.

The Providence Journal reports the right-hander has left McCoy Stadium and will join the Red Sox here at Rangers Ballpark. The Texas Rangers defeated Boston 10-9 in 11 innings Friday night and manager Terry Francona blew out his entire bullpen.

This will be Bowden’s second stint with the Red Sox this season, and he has not allowed a run in 2 1/3 innings of relief.

Doubront's role changing

July, 31, 2010
7/31/10
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BOSTON -- If Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein does not acquire bullpen help before Saturday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline, the club is confident it can find the answer internally.

Manager Terry Francona said Saturday that the team is converting lefthanded prospect Felix Doubront from a starter to a reliever at Triple-A Pawtucket with the goal of adding him to the Red Sox bullpen after he gets acclimated to his new role.

“Bringing a kid right from starting, especially when the majority of his innings are in the minor leagues, you put him in the bullpen and [bring him into a game] with runners on, that’s not fair to him,” Francona said. “We’ll give him some time to get his feet wet in the bullpen.”

Pawtucket Red Sox manager Torey Lovullo told Doubront Friday night of his role change. The lefthander has made three starts for Boston this season and has posted a 1-2 record with a 4.11 ERA over 15 innings.

“I have not got a report back on how that meeting went, but I’m assuming it went pretty well,” Francona said. “Everybody in Boston thinks this kid has a chance to impact us going forward this year in the bullpen. We view him as a starter and he’s going to be a starter, a major league starter.”

The 22-year-old signed with the Red Sox as an international free agent on July 12, 2004, and he’s impressed during his time in the organization. Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell has spoke highly of Doubront’s abilities time and again, and Francona concurs with his assessments.

Doubront throws strikes, he’s quick to the plate and he doesn’t allow the game to speed up on him.

“He’s been groomed as a starter, so getting up in the middle of the game he’ll have some things to get used to,” Francona said.

The Red Sox will also rely on starter-turned-reliever Michael Bowden down the stretch. He was recently recalled to Boston for a week before being optioned back to Triple-A because there’s no room on the roster.

“We’re pretty excited about that,” Francona said. “We weren’t real excited about having to send him back.”

Source: Sox not close to anything

July, 31, 2010
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BOSTON -- With only a few hours before Major League Baseball’s 4 p.m. non-waivers trade deadline, the Boston Red Sox are not close to making any deals of significance, according to a baseball source.

General manager Theo Epstein has been looking for bullpen help, but has come up empty, so he will turn his attention internally. According to the source, if the Red Sox do not acquire bullpen help at today’s deadline, they will convert lefty pitching prospect Felix Doubront to a reliever and promote him along with righthander Michael Bowden from Triple-A to pitch out of the Sox bullpen.

If Epstein doesn’t pull off a last-second deal this afternoon, he’ll likely make an August waiver deal.

The Sox were in the running to acquire Blue Jays reliever Scott Downs, but the asking price was too high, according to a baseball source, and the Sox weren’t willing to give up top prospects, including pitcher Casey Kelly, and draft picks.

Bowden optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket

July, 23, 2010
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SEATTLE -- The Boston Red Sox have optioned pitcher Michael Bowden to Triple-A Pawtucket to make room on the roster for starter Josh Beckett.

Bowden remained with the club here on Friday and will rejoin the PawSox in Columbus on Saturday. He was recalled from Pawtucket last Sunday and made three relief appearances for the Sox.

He worked a perfect ninth inning with two strikeouts against the Texas Rangers last Sunday at Fenway Park and saw action in back-to-back games in Oakland earlier this week. On Tuesday, he entered the game with two outs and two runners on and surrendered the game-winning hit to the Athletics’ Kevin Kouzmanoff. On Wednesday, he threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings and stranded two inherited runners in the process.

“I’m disappointed, but I have a feeling I’ll be back sooner rather than later,” Bowden said. “I’ll do everything I can down there to get back here.”

After his three relief appearances for the Red Sox during his recent stint, Bowden believes he’s more comfortable and relaxed in his new role. Now, he says, it’s just a matter of getting more opportunities before he’s completely at ease as a reliever.

“I think I’ll be successful if I continue to do what I have been doing,” he said. “I’ll continue to do that [in Pawtucket] and I’ll get another opportunity.”

During his brief stint, Bowden has been watching, studying and soaking in all the information he could from the other relievers on the staff, and he says it’s been a valuable learning experience.

The Red Sox decided the pitching prospect would be better suited for the bullpen rather than as a starter at this point, and Bowden’s bulldog mentality on the mound fits the role.

“I like it a lot,” he said. “I like it very much.”

The biggest transition for the 23-year-old right-hander from the rotation to the bullpen has been having to harness his adrenaline on a daily basis.

“Of course there’s a little more excitement and adrenaline and it’s about learning how to pitch like that,” he said. “The situations are a little more important. With a few more appearances and repetitions, I was starting to calm my nerves a little bit and I was able to pitch my game. I just need a few more outings and I’ll be comfortable out there. It’s just a matter of time.”

Red Sox manager Terry Francona and pitching coach John Farrell said they were impressed with what they saw from Bowden.

“His breaking ball is much better and we didn’t want to send him back when we called him up,” Francona said. “But we’re not allowed to play with 26 players. Hopefully this will keep him on somewhat of a schedule. You can see by the way we used him, we certainly weren’t afraid to use him. He’s always been a mature kid, but as far as innings pitched, it looks like he’s ready to start helping us, which is good.”

Wakefield available for relief duty

July, 23, 2010
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SEATTLE -- Before the Red Sox decided to option reliever Michael Bowden to Triple-A Pawtucket on Friday, Terry Francona met with Tim Wakefield to make sure he was readily available out of the bullpen.

Now that both Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett have returned to the rotation after stints on the disabled list, Wakefield was moved back to the bullpen on Thursday. The veteran knuckleballer tossed a bullpen session on Thursday and told Francona he will be available for duty, beginning Friday night if needed.

“If [Wakefield] wasn’t available, which we would understand, we would have had to do something else that we didn’t want to do. He’s OK to pitch out of the bullpen, which certainly helps.”

Bowden on his promotion

July, 18, 2010
7/18/10
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BOSTON -- Michael Bowden spoke about his promotion to the Red Sox bullpen before today's game:

Q: How has it been for you making the transition from starting pitching to relief?

“It’s actually been a very, very smooth transition becoming a reliever. Last year I was up here in September in the bullpen. Just being around these guys and being able to prepare every day I learned a lot. So I feel very comfortable in that role. Obviously, I was a starter in Triple A this year up until about three weeks ago. When I got the news, it was the greatest feeling of my life. I was really excited. I feel like it’s a good opportunity for me and not only that, I really enjoy baseball. The transition was smooth, I’m definitely excited to be here, and hopefully I’ll be able to help these guys out.”

Q: Terry Francona said that you’d be willing to play shortstop if it meant playing with the club. Is that an accurate description of your desire to play and help this team?

“I’ll put on the catcher’s gear if they want me to. I just like to play baseball. Whatever I can do to play and help the team win, I’ll do it.”

Q: What was your level of frustration when you didn’t make the team in spring training, and has that motivated you to push harder during the year?

“I went into spring training with the goal to make the team like I do every spring training. Obviously, I didn’t attain that goal. You know, it’s frustrating for everybody. All it does is make me work that much harder to get back to where I need to be. I mean, I didn’t do anything spectacular or really deserving in spring training to make the team. I didn’t early in the season either. There’s a lot of things I’ve got to work on, but over the last two months or so, I’ve felt very comfortable with my mechanics and very consistent.”

Thanks to Williams College senior Daniel Pesquera for conducting this interview.

Bowden joins 'pen; other moves looming

July, 18, 2010
7/18/10
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BOSTON -- The three-catcher alignment lasted for one game. Reliever Michael Bowden was recalled from Pawtucket before Sunday’s game against the Rangers and catcher Gustavo Molina was designated for assignment.

Bowden would have been here Saturday, but he had pitched the night before for Pawtucket, the reason the Sox waited one day to summon him.

The 23-year-old right-hander, who made spot starts for the Red Sox in each of the last two seasons, was in the Pawtucket rotation before being moved to the bullpen 10 days ago by the Red Sox after a start in which he allowed just one hit in 7 2/3 innings. In six starts just before he was converted to reliever, Bowden allowed just 10 runs in 35 2/3 innings, a 2.52 ERA.

But with the Sox bullpen in disarray, Bowden became a reliever and responded well, allowing just one hit and no runs over six innings spanning four appearances.

“The kid’s been on the radar for the last couple of years,’’ Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “He made a couple of spot starts. He was frustrated in spring training, where he was used as a starter but knew there were a couple of spots in the bullpen. Now he has a chance to contribute.’’

Roster moves coming
The Sox will have a number of roster decisions to make this week. Clay Buchholz is scheduled to be activated for a start Wednesday in Oakland, and Josh Beckett almost certainly will be activated at some point during the upcoming road trip, either Thursday in Seattle or a week from Tuesday in Anaheim. Francona said he planned to meet with Beckett, pitching coach John Farrell and GM Theo Epstein, and said a final decision might have to wait until Beckett throws a side session, which would come Monday.

Also, outfielder Jeremy Hermida, who doubled, scored and had two RBIs for Portland on Saturday night, is scheduled to play Monday and Tuesday for Pawtucket, once in the outfield, once as DH, before he joins the Sox on the West Coast swing. Francona said he expects Hermida to be activated for the Seattle series.

So who goes when these three return? It would seem that either Bowden or lefty Dustin Richardson would go back to Pawtucket. If Richardson goes, that would leave Francona with just one lefty, Hideki Okajima, but lefties are hitting .333 (5-for-15) against Richardson, and in Thursday night’s loss to Texas, he walked three batters in a third of an inning. So his spot is not a lock.

Ryan Shealy has had just four at-bats, so he could return as well. And then there is Daniel Nava, whose promotion to the big leagues came when Hermida went on the DL on June 11. Nava has done a terrific job, batting .294 and reaching base in 23 of 26 games, but he can’t play center field, which would seem to give the edge to Eric Patterson, who is batting just .207 but is needed to back up to Mike Cameron.


Progress for Ellsbury
Jacoby Ellsbury is running, taking ground balls and fly balls and making throws in the outfield and bunting on the field in Fort Myers as he works his way toward a rehab assignment. No word on whether he is hitting in the cage.

“He needs to play,’’ Cameron said, expressing his hope that Ellsbury will be back soon, “and we need him to play.’’

Today's lineup

July, 18, 2010
7/18/10
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The Red Sox face Texas today at Fenway in the series finale against the Rangers. ESPNBoston's Gordon Edes notes that Rangers starter C.J. Wilson, a lefthander, is holding lefty hitters to an .096 average, hence no J.D. Drew in today's lineup.

One roster note: Michael Bowden has joined the relief corps from Pawtucket, with catcher Gustavo Molina outrighted.

The Sox lineup:

Marco Scutaro, SS
Darnell McDonald, RF
David Ortiz, DH
Kevin Youkilis, 1B
Adrian Beltre, 3B
Mike Cameron, CF
Bill Hall, 2B
Daniel Nava, LF
Dusty Brown, C

Jon Lester, LHP
Gordon Edes will have much more soon, but here are a few pregame tidbits from St. Petersburg:

-- Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury might join the Red Sox on their upcoming trip to Toronto, though not to return to the lineup. Ellsbury, who is recovering in Arizona from a rib injury, is close to being able to resume baseball activity. (Read more on Ellsbury here)

-- Josh Beckett threw a simulated game at the Trop today and all went well. He will make his first rehab start in Pawtucket on Sunday. (Read more on Beckett here)

-- Interestingly, Michael Bowden (4-3, 3.77 ERA as a starter in Pawtucket) is being moved to the PawSox bullpen. Perhaps a call-up to the Red Sox pen is in his future?

-- Here is tonight’s Red Sox lineup:

1. Marco Scutaro, SS
2. Eric Patterson, CF
3. David Ortiz, DH
4. Kevin Youkilis, 1B
5. Adrian Beltre, 3B
6. J.D. Drew, RF
7. Daniel Nava, LF
8. Bill Hall, 2B
9. Kevin Cash, C
SP -- Felix Doubront, LHP

Bowden one of four optioned

March, 23, 2010
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Right-handed pitcher Michael Bowden, who figures to be one of the anchors of the Pawtucket rotation, was optioned to the PawSox Tuesday, along with first baseman Aaron Bates and right-handed pitcher Ramon A. Ramirez (the Deuce). Reassigned to minor-league camp was pitcher Jorge Sosa.

The moves leave 40 players -- including eight non-roster invitees -- in the Sox's Major League camp.

A look at the Sox's starting pitching depth

March, 21, 2010
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Mike Andrews is designer and developer of soxprospects.com and a special contributor to ESPNBoston.com.

For all the talk about the Red Sox having six starting pitchers for five slots, the new reality is that teams now stack their organizations with starting pitching depth, particularly the Red Sox. In the last five seasons, Boston has used an average of 11 starting pitchers per season, with an average of eight starters making at least five starts per year during that time period.

Last season, only four Sox starters made as many as 20 starts: Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield and Brad Penny combined for 109 starts. Seven other starters combined to make the other 53: Clay Buchholz (16), Daisuke Matsuzaka (12), John Smoltz (8), Justin Masterson (6), Paul Byrd (6), Junichi Tazawa (4), and Michael Bowden (1).

This season, the Sox head into April with six established starters: Beckett, Lester, John Lackey, Wakefield, Matsuzaka, and Buchholz. While it remains to be seen how Terry Francona will split up the starts between the six big guns, if history rings true we should expect to see the next group of pitchers on the depth chart. Even if that next group makes just 10 starts among them, those 10 games can be the difference in winning a division or clinching a playoff spot.

Here’s a look at that next group on the depth chart:

The Primary Options

Boof Bonser: Bonser was acquired from Minnesota in exchange for minor league reliever Chris Province back in December. A former first-round pick in 2000, Bonser was ranked as the 29th-best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America in 2002. However, he never broke out above A-ball, and the right-hander struggled with weight issues throughout his career and later a torn labrum that required surgery, causing him to miss all of the 2009 season. Now coming in at 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, the 28-year-old seems slated to fill the long-man role in the Boston bullpen in 2010, and could remain stretched out to make a spot start if needed. While Bonser is probably not in Boston’s long-term rotation plans, he’s reportedly back to full strength from his shoulder surgery, getting his fastball back up to the 92-94-mph range and reincorporating his entire four-pitch arsenal. However, he hasn’t been overly impressive in three spring training games, going 0-1 with a 7.20 ERA and 5 strikeouts over 5 innings. Bonser is out of options, meaning he can’t be assigned to the minors without first clearing waivers.

Michael Bowden: A supplemental first-round pick in 2005, Bowden has been impressive at every level of the system despite regularly playing above his age level. In five minor league seasons, the right-hander has gone 33-25 with a 3.15 ERA and 477 strikeouts over 532 innings.

However, he’s had an up-and-down major league career early on. Exclusively a starter in the minor leagues, Bowden was primarily used as a reliever during a short stint with the big league club last season, and his overall 2009 results were poor (9.56 ERA and a 1.81 WHIP in 8 games). Coming into 2010, the 23-year-old has revamped his mechanics and added a slider, and the early results have been decent. Bowden should be Pawtucket’s opening day starter this season and is likely to be one of the primary options if Boston needs to call up a pitcher to make more than one start.

However, the young righty’s long-term future with the Sox may be as a reliever, especially as 2010 will be his last option year.

[+] EnlargeJunichi Tazawa
AP Photo/Steven SenneDo the Red Sox envision Junichi Tazawa as a starter or reliever going forward?
Junichi Tazawa: Tazawa is likely to start the season at the top of Pawtucket’s rotation and then be one of the first options if the Sox need to call up a starter. If the Sox have to decide between Bowden and Tazawa, the team may just go with whoever’s hot at the time or it could even come down to who’s scheduled to pitch on a certain day.

Tazawa has three option years left (he was signed out of Japan in December 2008), so the Sox have more time to decide whether the right-hander is better suited for the rotation or the bullpen. In 2009, Tazawa flashed some great numbers between Portland and Pawtucket, going 9-7 with a 2.55 ERA over 20 starts, but he was also inconsistent in the majors and ultimately had to be shut down in late September due to arm fatigue.

Still just 23, look for a stronger, more confident and more experienced Tazawa to emerge this April. To prove himself as a long-term rotation option, Tazawa will need to show greater endurance in 2010 and work on keeping the ball down in the zone.

The Emergency Options

Fabio Castro: Castro, 25, is a smallish left-hander with fringe stuff who nonetheless has managed to put up impressive numbers at both the minor league and major league levels throughout his career. In four organizations over seven seasons, Castro is 40-26 with a 3.52 ERA in 214 minor league games (61 starts), and 0-1 with a 3.30 ERA in 30 major league games (1 start). Already on the 40-man roster, the lefty is probably headed to Triple-A to start the season, but it’s unclear at this point whether he’ll start or relieve with the PawSox.

If he cracks Pawtucket’s starting rotation this season and continues putting up numbers in line with his historical stats, Castro may force himself into the discussion as a possible option if a starter is needed at the major league level.

Randor Bierd: Bierd is a tall right-hander with a low-90s fastball and an above-average change-up. He was acquired from Baltimore for David Pauley in January 2009. After spending the first half of the 2009 season on the disabled list, Bierd was mediocre in the second half with the PawSox, putting up a 4.55 ERA in 25 games (7 starts). While his stuff has looked good this spring, he struggled in two spring appearances with Boston. Nevertheless, the Sox appear committed to keeping the 26-year-old stretched out as a starter in Pawtucket this season. Heading into 2010, Bierd will need to make some strides if he’s going to be considered an emergency option for Boston.

The Prospects

Adam Mills: Mills was one of the best collegiate pitchers in the nation in 2007, going 14-1 with a 1.01 ERA and 141 strikeouts in 142 2/3innings for UNC-Charlotte, but he was largely written off by scouts as his fastball reached only the high 80s.

Boston took a flyer on him in the eighth round of the 2007 draft, and since then he’s quickly climbed through the Sox system, going 22-17 with a 3.93 ERA in 66 games spanned over stops in Lowell, Lancaster, Portland, and Pawtucket. Now 25, Mills relies mainly on control and deception, but he does it well. However, he’s yet to face major league competition in the regular season, and he got pounded in two appearances with the major league club this spring, giving up 9 earned runs and 12 hits in 3 innings.

Look for Mills to be a mainstay in the middle of Pawtucket’s rotation for the foreseeable future, with the chance for an emergency call-up at some point in the next year or two. The right-hander may also get a look this September if the Sox have the space to add him to the 40-man roster.

Felix Doubront: Doubront is a name to watch. Signed as a 16-year-old international free agent out of Venezuela in July 2004, Doubront has turned heads at every step up the ladder. The left-hander has gone 36-29 in five minor league seasons with a 3.74 ERA, which was tempered by a subpar 2007 campaign in which he struggled while rehabbing from a hernia operation. In 2009, Doubront went 8-6 with a 3.35 ERA, playing well above his age level as a 21-year-old in Double-A Portland.

As for 2010, Doubront appears to be on the bubble between a return to Portland’s rotation and a promotion to Pawtucket to start the season (he was optioned to Pawtucket on Friday, but that’s not always definitive as to initial placement). Pitching seven scoreless innings with the big club this spring while giving up only three hits certainly has helped his cause for a promotion to Triple-A.

Either way, he should see some time with Boston as a 40-man call-up this September. He’ll need to work on control and his pitch efficiency in 2010, and over the long term the hope is that he packs on some muscle to his frame in order to increase the velocity of his fastball a few ticks. If he can show refinement in those areas, the Sox have the makings of a solid No. 3 to No. 4 starter on their hands a few years down the road.

Casey Kelly: While Kelly is the only pitcher in the system that has demonstrated true ace potential, keep in mind that he is just 20 and that he has pitched in only 17 games as a professional. Most of us know the story by now -- Kelly was drafted as a pitcher/shortstop in the first round of the 2008 draft, and then spent his first pro season in 2008 as a shortstop. He then pitched for the first half of the 2009 season, dominating with Low-A Greenville and High-A Salem to the tune of a 2.08 ERA and 0.85 WHIP in 17 starts. He returned to play short for the second half of the season and in the Arizona Fall League, putting up mediocre offensive numbers, leading to a decision this past off-season to concentrate on pitching full-time.

Despite the lack of pro experience, Kelly's pitching skills are quite advanced, mixing in three plus pitches: a low-90s fastball, a hard 12-6 curveball, and a nice change, all with pinpoint control and a mature approach. The right-hander is slated to start the season with Double-A Portland in 2010, and he is likely to spend most of the minor league season with the Sea Dogs absent some unprecedented dominance. That being said, Kelly could get a call-up to Boston this September to get some major league exposure, and that would be quite an accomplishment, as the Sox have never called up a 20-year-old in the Theo Epstein era.

Ultimately, the Sox already have four established starting pitchers locked up for the next several years in Lackey, Lester, Matsuzaka, and Buchholz, and may be on the verge of locking up Beckett long-term as well. While that doesn’t leave a lot of room for prospects to break in, look for Kelly to make a bid for a spot in the rotation by mid-2011, but he’ll certainly have some competition from Bowden, Tazawa, Doubront, and Mills.

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