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Friday, April 8, 2011
Mailbag: Early season questions

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

Here are some early season questions from the Red Sox mailbag:

Q: Hi Gordon!! It doesn't get any better than the start of baseball season! With the expectations so high on the Sox this year, do you think that Theo/Tito would be quicker to pull the trigger on a move (call up Iglesias, adjust the rotation) than they might have in prior years? Keep up the great work!! -- Steve Shore (Cranford, N.J.)

A: Steve, I think the 0-6 start might make them more inclined to make a move sooner, but nothing as major as calling up Jose Iglesias. Injury already has forced two moves, with Alfredo Aceves called up from Pawtucket to replace Matt Albers and Dennys Reyes designated for assignment in favor of Felix Doubront.

Q: With all the home runs given up by the Sox starters in Texas do you think it may have been wiser to use [Jason] Varitek in one of the games? His asset to the club really is with working with the pitching staff and he may have called better games than Salty. -- David Schultz (Worcester, Mass.)

A: David, that's a much too small sample size to pin on the catcher. The Rangers are a good power-hitting team playing in a home run park, and Sox pitchers seemingly paid dearly for every mistake they made. Don't think Jarrod Saltalamacchia was the reason pitchers were leaving pitches over the plate, and Nelson Cruz hit a pitch a few inches off the plate for his massive home run off Clay Buchholz.

Q: Hey, Gordon. How concerned should the Red Sox be about the early struggles of the starting rotation? We've seen Lester in particular get off to slow starts in past years, but the starting rotation was supposed to be a strength for this team. -- Anthony (Smithfield, R.I.)

A: Anthony, the first two series are far too small a sample size to draw conclusions about the rotation. It's better to judge by track record and health, and Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka came out of camp healthy this spring, which is a positive. Throwing 100 pitches in five innings is not as encouraging, obviously, but let's give them a few starts before making any hard and fast judgments. Track record when healthy is a better barometer, and both pitchers have shown they are capable of producing quality innings. John Lester is a clear ace, and Buchholz, while he'll be hard-pressed to match last season, has to demonstrate he can put together back-to-back strong seasons. John Lackey will give up his hits, and his nine-run first outing obviously doesn't inspire confidence, but Year 2 should be better.

Q: Why during the spring training games do they not have the starting pitchers pitch late into the games. The first series against Texas, not one pitcher got past the 6th inning, and probably was tired, as evident by hanging the pitches in the strike zone. -- Michael Kowalski (Milton Mills, N.H. )

A: Michael, it's all about building up arm strength. That's why you'll see a guy go two innings his first time out, then maybe four or five, working up to around seven -- or 90 pitches -- by the end of camp.

Q: Gordon, should the Red Sox really be "shocked", as Clay Buchholz put it, that they got beaten by the AL champs? -- Josh (Sharon, Mass.)

A: Josh, I think the shock came not from losing to the Rangers; I don't think anyone would have been shocked if they'd lost the series. The shock came from being swept and being smoked.

Q: Do you think there is a possibility that Ellsbury could have a better year at the plate than Crawford? -- Mark Kupcinskas (Northbridge, Mass.)

A: Absolutely there's a chance, Mark, though Jacoby Ellsbury has yet to show he can hit with the power displayed by Carl Crawford, who hit a career-high 19 home runs last season. I'd love to see Ellsbury bunt more, by the way. I think it would open up a lot of things for him.

Q: How much of the Red Sox recent pitching troubles can be attributed to the loss of John Farrell? Or, would it be more correct to say, how much of the pitching troubles can attributed to the Curt Young? -- Mark Grzegorzewski (Clearwater, Fla.)

A: This kind of start could have happened on Farrell's watch, too. We're not talking about a guy who fell off the turnip truck (how's that for using an obsolete expression?) in Young. He had a tremendous track record in nurturing high-quality pitching staffs -- Mark Mulder; Tim Hudson; Barry Zito; Dan Haren and Rich Harden; Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, Dallas Braden and company -- in Oakland. These are veteran pitchers we're talking about. They bear the brunt of the responsibility.

Q: What do you think the Sox are going to do with Lars Anderson in the future? Just a few seasons ago he was supposed to be one of our big time power bats of the future, now we have a proven bat (and great D) at 1st with [Adrian] Gonzalez. I've gotten to meet Lars a few times at spring training practices and he seems like a real cool guy. I'm rooting for him, but I don't know if he has a future with the sox. -- Justin M. Sams (Fort Myers, Fla.)

A: Justin, Lars has that California vibe going for him and is an interesting character, but he's basically playing now to claim a future somewhere else. A good season in Pawtucket, and you'll see the Sox using him as a trading chip.

Q: Gordon,Given the depth at Pawtucket, what paw sox player has the best chance to make a significant contribution at the major league level in 2011? -- Glenn Conway (Plymouth, Mass.) A: Glenn, My colleague at SoxProspects.com, Mike Andrews, noted in his minor league preview that no fewer than 17 players on Pawtucket's roster had big league experience, and that doesn't include gifted shortstop Iglesias, the organization's top prospect. Aceves and Doubront already have gotten a callup, outfielders Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick could help if summoned. Iglesias could well be an August addition if he's playing at a high level, and Marco Scutaro is scuffling. There are a lot of bullpen arms that will be on the Patwucket-Yawkey Way shuttle. Doubront could be a difference-maker either out of the pen or in the rotation.

Q: Is it possible that too much depth will hurt the Sox? Tito has already been making large lineup changes in only a few games ... couldn't this hinder any chance at linearity? -- Matt (New York) A: Matt, you're going to have to explain to me linearity. There is no such thing as too much depth. This club didn't have enough to weather the epidemic of injuries they had last season, so that was a priority this winter, and I think Theo Epstein and company have built not only a strong 25-man roster but probably can go at least 10 deep in players in Pawtucket who could help, too. Terry Francona likes to get everyone in early to keep them sharp, so I wouldn't describe those as major changes.

Q: Given his slow start, what to do think Carl Crawford has to do to right his start and live up to his huge contract. -- Scott Heian (Cudahy, Wis.)

A: One thing I think he has to do, Scott, is not to try to live up to his huge contract on every at-bat and to recognize that a handful of games in the first week does not define how he will play this season. I definitely think he's trying too hard to make a great first impression, and once he lets his ability take over, he'll be fine.

Q: What if any are the chances that the Red Sox would ink Big Papi to a contract extension during the season if he gets off to a fast start this season? And what do you think that contract extension might look like? -- Chad Staley (Medford, Ore.) A: Chad, Don't think that'll happen during the season, unless David Ortiz absolutely goes off. It remains to be seen whether they choose to go in another direction -- right-handed bat? -- even if he has a big year.

Q: Do you think that if Lowrie hits as he has shown in the past that it will force Tito to move Scutaro to the bench? -- John Calkins (Torrington, Conn.)

A: John, Tito has shown no inclination to do so and said he believes Jed Lowrie is most valuable playing all over the infield. I wonder how Jed is going to be able to maintain any consistency at the plate if he's just playing intermittently.

Q: Hi Gordon,If Lackey and/or Beckett perform worse than last year, or get hurt, what are the Red Sox options to assist the rotation ... Doubront has elbow issues. I am concerned our rotation could be a problem no one has been discussing. It is a long season and we'll need starters, more Wakefield? -- Derek Cianci (Groton, Mass.)

A: Derek, the Red Sox are reasonably confident Doubront's elbow issues were minor, as evidenced by his call-up Friday. I think Tim Wakefield and Aceves are the primary other starting options.

Q: Which recent Red Sox trade will come back to haunt the team the most? -- Stephen Fredericks (Chelmsford, Mass.)

A: Stephen, some people would argue giving up Hanley Ramirez already has, although I think winning a World Series with Beckett/Mike Lowell justifies that deal. It's always possible that Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo and Reymond Fuentes will develop into big stars with San Diego, which could make the Gonzalez deal look bad in hindsight if he were to get hurt, for example.

For my money, the deal that looks really bad right now is the one for Eric Gagne with Texas. Gagne flamed out in Boston, David Murphy has been a real contributor for the Rangers and outfielder Engel Beltre, still only 21, was the Rangers' minor league player of the year.

Q: Who will be the X-factor on this year's Red Sox? Who will be the surprise guy that contributes day in and day out? -- Travis Crain (San Antonio)

A: Hard to call anyone a surprise, Travis, on a team of so many proven commodities. I think the guy who could exceed expectations is Ellsbury, who was coming into his own when he got hurt last year and could blow up this year.

Q: Do you see the Red Sox trading Mike Cameron or Marco Scutaro during the year and calling up Iglesias and Kalish to stay at the major league level? -- Ryan Dowd (Cullowhee, N.C.)

A: Ryan, I definitely wouldn't rule that out. Both could have value at the deadline, especially if the Sox are looking to shore up their bullpen.

Q: How do you think the new catcher will work out with the pitching staff and will he be any better throwing out base runners? -- Ted (Lunenburg, Mass.)

A: Ted, I'll end with a hometown question. Well, the early returns bear watching. Saltalamacchia caught his first runner Thursday in Cleveland with a one-bounce throw then later in the game sailed a throw into center field. He may have more pressure on him than any single player.

Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.