Boston Red Sox: Matsuzaka Injury Will Require Changes

Matsuzaka's no-decision against Baltimore on Monday will be his last appearance for a while (Krupa/ AP)

If there is a such a thing as a fortunate injury,or a convenient one, the Boston Red Sox may have found it.  Despite back-to-back shutout efforts in April, Daisuke Matsuzaka has been mostly a liability in the Boston rotation.  But after suffering elbow tightness earlier in the year, Dice-K was shelved this week with a possible ulnar collateral ligament sprain.  He’s on the 15-day D.L., but the nature of the injury could cost him up to two months or more.

According to Peter Gammons, Matsuzaka is getting a second opinion.  Red Sox medical staff believe that the injury, which is compounded by a flexor mass strain, was caught in time to avoid season-ending surgery.  If that theory is confirmed, then Matsuzaka will be unavailable for most of the summer.

That could be a good thing.

In seven starts and one relief appearance this year, the Japanese righty has amassed a 5.30 ERA and 1.47 WHIP.  His walk rate, a concern throughout his major league career, is actually higher than ever, and if not for consecutive gems hurled against Toronto and Los Angeles, his numbers would be horrific.

There was no real way for the club to rely on him moving forward.  In a perfect world, he would have been traded or otherwise removed from the rotation, but with John Lackey enduring his own struggles, the Sox could ill afford to shut down another arm.  I discussed options that the Sox could pursue if Lackey is unable to turn things around, and while that discussion had to include possible trades, it began with the organization’s existing players.

If Matsuzaka is indeed to miss two months, it’s time to give Felix Doubront and Alfredo Aceves the proverbial keys to the castle.

Aceves could be forced into a starting role due to injuries in Boston (Meric/ Getty)

Aceves first.  He’s been phenomenal in relief, and while he has little experience as a starting pitcher, he’s earned the right to fill in.  Lackey is on the D.L. for a little while longer with an elbow issue of his own, and with him out, the Sox will turn to Aceves in the upcoming series against the Cubs.  He’s slated to start the middle game on Saturday against Carlos Zambrano.

If he does well, then Boston must consider him a short-term but regular solution for the time being.  He can pick up any other starts that Lackey is forced to miss, and can also be a fallback plan if Lackey continues to get shelled for nine runs a game.

But Doubront is the man that should replace Dice-K.  That will have to wait a bit, as he’s nursing a groin strain suffered earlier in the week.  The strain is not believed to be severe, but as CBS Sports reported, he was placed on the 7-day D.L. by the PawSox.  Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler characterized the injury as “nothing serious” but said “he’s going to miss a start or two to make sure he’s all right.”

Assuming he only needs to skip one start, possibly two, the Red Sox should be able to make do with Aceves.  A longer lasting injury to Doubront could necessitate Tim Wakefield’s presence in the rotation, and that is a risky proposition.

Doubront currently sports a 1.98 ERA with a 1.02 WHIP and an 18:5 strikeout to walk ratio at Pawtucket.

A last resort option might be to call up Andrew Miller from Pawtucket.  The former Tiger and Marlin is still considered a prospect though he will turn 26 this week.  His 2.80 ERA with the PawSox is solid, but his 31:28 strikeout to walk ratio needs work.  If he can’t improve his command, he’s unlikely to evolve into a major league arm, and frankly, he’s probably not ready for a trip to The Show.

Watch for Doubront to be called up when healthy, especially if Lackey falters in his return.  Taking the long view with regard to the 2011 season and post-season, the Sox might be better served by grooming Doubront and Aceves than by trying to skate by with a flailing and failing Lackey and a 44 year old Wakefield.