The fracture sustained by Curtis Granderson in his first at-bat of the spring is certainly a huge blow to a Yankee offense that, according to Joe Girardi, already had to “find different ways to score runs.” While no team likes to see its players get injured, it can be argued that if an injury is going to happen, the best time is during Spring Training. With live games underway for less than a week, the Yankees are certainly not the only team already dealing with injuries and their lingering effects.
Starting pitcher Clay Buchholz is one of several players that the rival Red Sox are keeping a close eye on this spring. The 28-year-old right-hander strained his hamstring during pitchers’ fielding practice, on the very first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers. Initially, the injury was a bit of concern to the BoSox, but that concern has since subsided. Buchholz has resumed running and sprinting, and threw two innings (37 pitches) in a simulated game on Saturday.
At first glance, Buchholz’s 11-8 record and 4.56 ERA in 2012 do not look that great. However, those numbers are somewhat misleading, due to a very rocky start to the season. Despite earning a 4-2 record over nine starts, Buchholz struggled mightily in April and most of May, giving up five or more earned runs in seven of those nine starts – one of said starts was a 6-2 loss to the Yanks, in which he gave up five solo homers to the Bombers. Despite entering June with a 7.19 ERA, Buchholz began rebounding quite nicely at the end of May. Through the 20 starts he made after May 21, he posted an ERA of 3.41, held opposing batters to a .236 batting average, and earned 13 of his 14 overall quality starts of 2012.
Because Boston’s rotation is questionable at best, the Red Sox really need Buchholz to return to the form that propelled him through the second half of 2012 as well as all of 2011, when he went 17-7 with a dazzling ERA of 2.33 over 28 starts. Other than Buchholz, the Red Sox are also hoping for a bounce-back season from their ace, Jon Lester, who had a miserable season in 2012, in which, despite tying his career-high 33 starts, he finished with career-worst stats in several different pitching categories.
While Buchholz has not yet been cleared for full baseball activity, he stated that he felt “really good,” and will probably take on a typical workload in the near future. The Red Sox will continue to monitor his progress in hopes that he is able to start the 2013 season just as strongly as he ended the last half of 2012.
He may have another disconcerting start to April, though, as the Yanks open the 2013 season against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on April 1. In nine career starts against the Yankees, Buchholz is 2-5 with an ERA of 7.19 and an unbelievable 14 home runs allowed. Currently slotted as the third starter in Boston’s rotation, it is safe to say that, if healthy, Buchholz will start during that three-game series against the Yanks – perhaps he will give an early boost of confidence to the Yankees’ new-look offense of 2013.
The Red Sox would need good efforts from Buchholz and Lester as well as 35-year-old Ryan Dempster – who was signed to a two-year, $26.5 million contract in December – to act as an anchor for a rotation that will also include 34-year-old John Lackey, who is still recovering from Tommy John Surgery, and Felix Doubront, who has only started 32 Major League games. Many, many things have to go right for the Red Sox if they wish to improve upon their rotation, which in 2012 contributed to Boston having the fourth-highest ERA in Major League Baseball.
While the rotation is certainly full of question marks, the Boston bullpen, on the other hand, looks exceptionally strong. Adding closer Joel Hanrahan and Koji Uehara – both strikeout machines – to an already deep, effective bullpen makes the 2013 relief corps appear to be, as of now, rather menacing.
One pitcher in that bullpen does not seem content in Boston, though. Yankee fans have mostly fond memories of reliever Alfredo Aceves’ time in New York. The 30-year-old righty was versatile, excelling in multiple bullpen roles in addition to being able to fill in as a spot starter when needed. He had his best year in 2009, when he won 10 games as a reliever, going 10-1 with a 3.54 ERA and 69 strikeouts over 84 innings for the World Champion Yankees.
His time with the Red Sox, however, has been far from pleasant. In August 2012, Aceves was suspended for three games for conduct detrimental to the team, after he reportedly had a verbal altercation with then-manager Bobby Valentine. Then, there was some more questionable behavior, including a heated dugout argument with Dustin Pedroia, during a September 1 game against the A’s. Now, in spring 2013, Aceves is at it again with his new team.
While Aceves does not necessarily have an injury, he is being included in this article because first-year Red Sox manager John Farrell initially thought the reliever was hurt on Sunday, when he witnessed Alfredo lobbing balls in a live batting practice session that was supposed to feature pitches being thrown much faster. When told by pitching coaches to add some velocity to his pitches, Aceves did not listen. Even after he was asked by Farrell if he was feeling okay, Aceves responded affirmatively and proceeded to throw softly.
While addressing the media after the incident, Farrell confirmed that Aceves was in fine heath and, although the session “didn’t go as intended,” the pitcher had been spoken to and the matter had “been addressed.” It seems as though Aceves is trying to get himself thrown out of Boston, so it will be very interesting to see how this relationship plays out during Spring Training, as Alfredo will likely be under tight watch.
The Red Sox are also monitoring another player very closely this spring, a player that has absolutely amazing numbers against the Yankees. In 176 games against the Yanks, David Ortiz has over 200 hits to go along with his 37 homers, 131 RBI, .313 average, and .403 OBP.
Ortiz was having an impressive season before injuring his Achilles tendon in mid-July. Through 89 games, the 37-year-old designated hitter was hitting .316/.414/.609 with 23 homers and 58 RBI. Projecting his home run and RBI totals over the course of a 143-game season – his average number of games played with the Sox, not including the injury-plagued 2012 – reveals that Big Papi was on pace to finish last year with about 36 homers and 95 runs batted in.
Ortiz has been taking batting practice and participating in some light agility drills, but is still (at the very least) one week away from actually playing in a game. Both Ortiz and John Farrell remain very optimistic about the slugger’s future return. Obviously, when talking to the media, the Red Sox have to be overly positive about this situation; however, the two-year contract that Ortiz agreed to with the Sox over the offseason would not include specific language regarding his Achilles if the organization was not at all concerned with the physical condition of their aging star.
Rehabbing alongside Ortiz is catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli. Ill-informed Yankee fans may remember, after Russell Martin signed with the Pirates, passionately calling for Brian Cashman to sign the then-free-agent Napoli as the everyday catcher for the Yanks. It remains to be seen why some fans wanted the Yankees to spend upward of $12 million in annual salary on a multiyear deal for an oft-injured player that has played a total of 199 games behind the plate since 2010.
Much to the chagrin of the aforementioned delusional Yankee fans, the rival Red Sox signed Napoli to a three-year, $39 million deal – pending a physical – in early December. The “pending a physical” language that is part of every major deal in MLB actually came into play, as Napoli was discovered to have a hip condition called avascular necrosis – the same condition that reportedly led to the retirement of multi-sport star Bo Jackson. Because of the discovery, the Red Sox restructured their deal with Napoli, ultimately agreeing to a one-year, $5 million deal that is laden with incentives related to playing-time.
While the Yankees would have been wasting a considerable amount of money for Napoli in the first place, they certainly dodged a bullet after Napoli’s condition was discovered. The Red Sox chose to stick with him, though, and hope to have their starting first baseman ready and completely healthy for Opening Day. Healing from his injury more quickly than teammate Ortiz, Napoli has been taking consistent batting practice and fielding drills, and, as of Sunday, was permitted to run the bases. Furthermore, Farrell recently announced that Napoli will play in his first Spring Training game on Friday.
The future effects of his condition and how they will influence the Red Sox are far from certain, but, as of now, Napoli’s rehab seems to be going very well. While he is currently penciled in to play first base, the lingering effects of Papi’s Achilles injury could potentially cause him to see some significant at-bats as a DH. Should Papi miss a considerable amount of games in 2013, thus causing Napoli to DH, recently-acquired Mike Carp could get an opportunity at first base.
Starting in left field for the Mariners on Opening Day of 2012, the highly-touted Carp was hoping to contribute for a full season, after doing pretty well in his 79-game stint with the Mariners in 2011. Unfortunately, the 26-year-old injured his shoulder that very game and, due to unsuccessful rehab attempts, missed a significant amount of time in 2012. The depth added by the M’s in the offseason did not warrant Carp’s presence on the big-league roster, and was ultimately designated for assignment before being acquired by the Sox on February 20. In Red Sox camp, Carp will be competing against the likes of Daniel Nava and Lyle Overbay for a backup role and a bench spot on the team, but could give Boston some nice depth if he makes the roster out of spring.
Given that the Red Sox finished 2012 with an overall record of 69-93, effectively placing them in last place in the AL East, there is only one way to go – up. Boston should be better in 2013, but it remains uncertain just how much better. The offense is there, albeit with some major producers harboring potentially dangerous, lingering injuries. The bullpen can possibly be the best in the Majors – but if the starting rotation consistently gets rocked, how effective can a bullpen really be? In order for the Boston Red Sox to drastically improve from 2012, their rotation must perform well; they seem to have all the other pieces.