After dropping two out of three games to the New York Yankees, there’s one major question for the all-star break: What does the injury to Clay Buchholz mean for the Red Sox? Rick Rowand takes a look at the options the team has to plug the hole that the lost ace has left behind.
Clay Buchholz left Friday’s game against the Yankees in the fourth inning experiencing what was initially described as elbow tightness. After an MRI, the injury was diagnosed as a flexor strain and he was placed on the 15-day DL.
Most elbow tightness or elbow injury reports for pitchers result in a trip to Birmingham to see Dr. James Andrews that always leaves fans with a feeling of dread. Buchholz is reportedly going south to see Dr. Andrews for a second opinion. However, that’s common for any injured player with elbow discomfort and it’s not like seeing Andrews is a guarantee that he will have surgery. Is it?
According to Orthopaedic Surgeon and Chief of Sports Medicine for Tufts Medical Center, Dr. Chris Geary, most pitchers suffering with a flexor strain miss somewhere between four to six weeks with some missing up to twelve weeks. The biggest danger, like with most injuries, is the player attempting to come back too soon. This would run the risk of re-aggravating the same injury, or even worse, injuring something else while compensating for the original injury. In this case, it could be the shoulder or even the UCL and returning to the DL for a considerably longer stint.
The Red Sox will be without their best pitcher anywhere from three to who knows how many starts. What are the Red Sox options at this point in the season?
What the Sox will probably do, because of their place in the standings and because it won’t cost them prospects or other players, is to shuffle pitchers between Pawtucket and Boston for the anticipated four to six weeks that Buchholz will be out.
They started to implement this strategy on Saturday when they called up starter Brian Johnson from the PawSox. Johnson has started 16 games in 2015 with a 2.73 ERA in 85 2/3 IP. He’s recorded 81 strikeouts and has a .217 batting average against with a WHIP of 1.10.
The Sox also have three other options with starters that are already on the 40 man roster, one of whom, Justin Masterson, is currently working out of the pen. The other two, Joe Kelly and Steven Wright, are in Pawtucket. To bring them back would take a corresponding move on the 25-man active roster.
Masterson is working out of the pen because he has not been able to regain the form he had prior to his injury in 2014. Kelly was demoted to AAA because he hasn’t exhibited the command and control that he had prior to 2014 and his ERA is one and a half runs higher than his career average, sitting at 5.67. His previous high was 4.20 last season. Wright has been up and down between Boston and Pawtucket and used as both a reliever and a starter in Boston. He’s pitched in 11 games and started four with an ERA of 4.15. In Pawtucket, he has started seven games and has an ERA of 3.60.
Another possibility would be to bring up Pawtucket starter Henry Owens, but that would take a roster move to put him on the 40 man and this is also his first year facing AAA competition.
The final option would be for the Sox to trade prospects and/or players for an established starter from a team that is hopelessly out of the race. This will be costly because there are many other teams that are in the market for a quality starter as the trading deadline of July 31st approaches. Typically, the price in prospects and players does get higher as the deadline looms. Ben Cherington has typically been passive near the deadline, so the Sox paying a premium seems unlikely unless they gain ground before the deadline. After this weekend’s series they are six and one half games back of the Yankees in the AL East. If they are able to make up ground, we’ll look at possible targets in the next couple of weeks. But for that to happen, the front office needs to do address the incredibly shallow bullpen.