As the Boston Red Sox look to repair their tattered pitching staff, rumors appeared this week that starter Justin Masterson, just acquired as a free agent from the St. Louis Cardinals last December, may be the next casualty as General Manager Ben Cherington wields his knife.
After the Red Sox starting rotation failed to pitch to a level anywhere near expectations — and those expectations going into the season were not particularly high — over the first five weeks of the 2015 Major League Baseball season, Cherington and Manager John Farrell started their surgery on Thursday.
First to go was pitching coach Juan Nieves. Despite guiding the Boston pitching staff through their miracle 2013 season when the team followed a last-place 2012 finish with an unlikely ride to a division title and ultimately, the Red Sox third World Series championship in 10 years, he was working with an almost entirely different group of arms — and personalities — this year.
Long gone are John Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavey, and Felix Doubront, as well as hard-throwing left reliever Andrew Miller. With only the enigmatic Clay Buchholz left over from the 2013 Boston starting staff, the new group of Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Joe Kelly, and Masterson along with Buchholz just didn’t “connect” with Nieves, the Red Sox said.
“The ability to maintain the consistency or effect change when needed or adjustments that are required that’s typical with any pitcher —that wasn’t the same as we saw two years ago,” Farrell explained following the canning of 50-year-old Nieves.
Next to fall was reliever Edward Mujica, acquired from the Cardinals prior to 2014 and pegged to replace 40-year-old Koji Uehara in the closer role. Mujica was simply never effective in any relief role for the Red Sox.
Now the rumors around Boston have Masterson slated as the next to fall in the Red Sox reworking of their pitching plans.
The new speculation follows a hard-to-watch outing by Masterson at Fenway Park against the Tampa Bay Rays Wednesday, in which the amiable 30-year-old walked six in just 4 1/3 innings. Along with allowing seven hits and a hit batsman, the sinkerballer was lucky to escape with only four runs crossing the plate in his abbreviated outing.
“I felt like I was in the re-filming of Major League, ” he said after the game, which ultimately turned into the Red Sox 15th loss of the year against just 13 wins. “I could hear, ‘Ball four, Ball eight, Ball 12, tried the corner and missed!’”
Masterson, who was drafted by the Red Sox in 2006 as a second-round pick, is pitching on a one-year contract with Boston for $9.5 million. In his six starts he has pitched just 33 innings and allowed a bloated 5.18 ERA.
If the Red Sox do wave bye-bye to Masterson, the latest rumors expect 22-year-old Venezuelan lefty Eduardo Rodriguez to get his chance in Boston. At the AAA level so far in 2015, Rodriguez has held opponents to just five earned runs in 24 2/3 innings over four starts, while striking out 22 and walking just two.
[Image: Rich Gagnon/Getty Images]