Commentary

Red Sox rotation still unsettled

Shaky outing by Aaron Cook, injury to Josh Beckett muddle picture

Updated: August 2, 2012, 8:28 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- When Boston Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington decided it would be best for the organization not to pull the trigger on a possible trade that would have added a top-tier starting pitcher before Tuesday's deadline, it left the onus on the current staff to succeed in order for the club to earn a postseason berth.

More notably, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester remain in a Red Sox uniform and part of the rotation moving forward. It seems that no matter how well or poorly Beckett is pitching, he always has some sort of impact on the entire rotation, and that's currently the case.

After fellow starter Aaron Cook suffered a 7-5 loss in the series finale to the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday night at Fenway Park, the state of the Sox's rotation again is in question. Before manager Bobby Valentine decides on the upcoming matchups, a determination must be made on Beckett's availability.

"We're dealing with Josh's situation right now with the rotation," Valentine said after Boston saw its four-game winning streak snapped.

The manager did not have a postgame update on Beckett's status, but the right-hander is scheduled to throw a bullpen session either Thursday or Friday to determine the extent of his back injury and whether he'll be able to make his next start or if he'll need to go on the disabled list.

Earlier Wednesday, Valentine didn't think Beckett's back was serious enough to warrant a trip to the DL, but it all depends on how he feels after that bullpen session.

"We're glad it's just a minor thing and hopefully he can make his next start and continue to pitch because we need him," Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "We need every single one of our guys who's in the starting rotation.

"I don't see this lingering too much. I see him getting treatment, and I've had back spasms before, but being a starting pitcher is nice because you've got the four days in between to kind of let it rest and be good to go for that fifth day.

"It was nice to see him throwing the way he was and I think he even felt it before the game, so the fact that he was able to pitch that well with that feeling is a good sign."

[+] EnlargeAaron Cook
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonAaron Cook has given up two home runs in each of his past three starts, including a pair of bombs to the Tigers on Wednesday.

When it became evident that the only deadline-day addition to the Red Sox's roster would be lefty reliever Craig Breslow, it showed that Cherington & Co. have the confidence in this club to make a serious run the last two months of the season.

"It's the confidence we have in ourselves anyway," Saltalamacchia said. "We came to spring training with this team. We've had injures, so our acquisitions and trades were our own guys and getting them healthy and back on the field. This is a team that we know we can win with. It's just a matter of winning. It's on us and we have to continue to go out there and play hard and fight."

Cook was hoping to give the Red Sox a solid start on Wednesday, but he faltered, allowing six runs on nine hits, including two home runs in 4 2/3 innings of work. The right-hander was efficient in the first three innings, but things fell apart in the fourth and fifth.

Detroit tied the game at 1-1 in the top of the fourth, but Valentine and Cook both would have rather not talked about the dreadful fifth. That's when the Tigers did most of their damage, scoring five runs. Miguel Cabrera crushed a two-run homer and Prince Fielder followed with a solo shot.

"The biggest problem was hanging a breaking ball to one of the best hitters in the game," Cook said of Cabrera's 26th home run of the season. "He had a long at-bat and I tried to do something a little different, hung a curveball and that's what he's supposed to do with that pitch.

"Other than that, I can live with the ground balls getting through and scoring runs here and there, but when I'm making bad pitches to the best hitters in the game and leaving them up, they did exactly what they're supposed to do with those pitches."

The home run ball has been a serious issue for Cook in his past three starts, allowing a total of six homers after only surrendering two in his first five starts of the season.

"I've been missing location with my pitches, and unfortunately I'm on one of those streaks that I've never had in my career where I've given up multiple home runs in three games in a row now," Cook said. "So in those situations I need to bear down a little harder and make sure I'm definitely down in the zone because if I'm down in the zone and they're hitting balls on the ground, the outcome of the game is totally different."

Despite the numbers, Cook believes he's not that far from putting a solid outing together.

"Confidence-wise, it really doesn't shake me," he said of the homers. "I know what I'm doing out there. I know what happened and why it happened. I still feel strong and I still feel healthy. It's just a matter of not making bad pitches in those situations and just bearing down.

"I feel like I've been only making three or four bad pitches a game, but they've been resulting in four or five runs on the other side. I need to bear down and pitch a little bit smarter."

The fact of the matter is the starting rotation has hampered the Red Sox for the majority of the season. Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront have been the lone bright spots, and now with Beckett injured again, there's a possibility Franklin Morales will be converted back into a starter. He could replace either Beckett or Cook.

Of course, the Red Sox are looking at this situation positively, and despite Wednesday's loss, Boston has won back-to-back series, with the Minnesota Twins coming to town for a four-game set, beginning Thursday with Lester (5-8, 5.49 ERA) on the mound.

"I was really proud of the way the guys battled in that game," Valentine said. "That's another series we win. We won a couple of series against some tough teams -- New York and Detroit -- and if we continue to win series, we'll be just fine."

It all depends on the starting pitching. It all depends on the health -- and effectiveness -- of Josh Beckett.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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