After sweeping the division-leading Baltimore Orioles upon their return to the Dome, the Blue Jays face another AL East opponent this weekend in the Boston Red Sox. They might be last in the division (had to say it), but a series against Boston is always important for the Jays.
Joining me in a Q&A to help kick off the three-game set is Derek Stykalo, editor of FanSided’s great Red Sox site BoSox Injection, and head on over there to if you’d like to see my answers to his questions as well.
Jared Macdonald: After some expected regression from 2010 in an injury-plagued 2011 campaign, what exactly has happened to Clay Buchholz now in 2012?
Derek Stykalo: The exact reason on why Buchholz is struggling hasn’t been confirmed by the club, at least they haven’t released it. But it’s safe to say it comes down to his back that he injured last year. While he has been better in three of his last four starts there is still concern over the inconsistency and inability to avoid multiple walks and allowing the big inning. Early on he wasn’t getting his fastball down in the zone and was being punished for it, a result of his mechanics in which he wasn’t getting low enough on his delivery. Speculation was that he was either still feeling the effects of that nagging back injury or he was timid to fully let out in fear of re-injuring his back. The rough outings compounded and now it appears his confidence has been shaken, although he is showing signs of rounding into the form that we all expect to see from Buchholz as evidenced by his 6 K’s and 1 walk over 7.0 innings last Sunday against Tampa Bay.
JM: Will Middlebrooks has been a feel-good story for the Sox so far this season, hitting .316 with a .922 OPS in the first 24 games of his career. What would you like to see happen with him when other players finally return from their injuries?
DS: This kid plays the game the right way; a hardnosed, gritty and full out hustle on every play and he’s fun to watch on top of that. He is quickly becoming a fan favorite thanks to his 6 home runs, something he’s done on a regular basis since he first came up to the big club and two more than both Youkilis and Adrian Gonzalez. Keeping Middlebrooks has been the center of debate recently given the return of Kevin Youkilis to third base and everyone knows Middlebrooks is the future third baseman, making Youkilis expendable. I would like to see Youkilis dealt to allow Middlebrooks to show he can handle the job on a full time basis, but moving Youkilis will prove to be more difficult than one thinks. In the mean time, a platoon at third base between the two players along with shifting Gonzalez to right field is an option, albeit not an ideal one. The problem with dealing Youk is proving he can stay healthy to play the infield and in order to do that he needs playing time. The other challenge is trying to extract a decent return for Youk given the other GM’s in the game know the Red Sox are trying to move him and won’t necessarily panic to send a top tier player back in return.
JM: Middlebrooks’ fine play, along with the return of Kevin Youkilis, led to three-time Gold Glove first baseman Adrian Gonzalez logging starts in right field. Where did this come from, and do you think this will continue providing the injuries continue?
DS: Gonzalez will continue to log starts in right as long as both Youkilis and Middlebrooks are on the roster. The club won’t send Middlebrooks down to triple-A and as I said above, dealing Youkilis will be a challenge that will take some time to sort through. As long as both Youk and Middlebrooks platoon at third base and sporadically move Gonzo to right so Youk can play first, we will see the $154 million dollar first baseman in the outfield. Personally it terrifies me to run the risk of injury on Gonzo, but given the offense the kid has given, it’s hard not to pencil him into the lineup. The real challenge will be when the regular outfielders start getting healthy, ie: Jacoby Ellsbury, Darnell McDonald and Carl Crawford. Not only will there be a plethora of regulars who only play the outfield, trying to juggle Gonzo in right will only complicate matters, making a Youkilis trade almost a necessity.
JM: After hitting a career-low .255 with a .694 OPS last season, Carl Crawford is still weeks away from making his 2012 debut. Are fans getting frustrated with Crawford’s $142 million tenure so far with the Red Sox?
DS: Fans are beyond frustrated with Crawford and are ready to write him off for the year in 2012. Most fans were willing to give him another year to prove 2011 was an adjustment period that took way to long, but after multiple injuries and now the elbow in which Tommy John Surgery hasn’t been completely ruled out, the natives are getting restless. I’ve ready in multiple mainstream media coverage that perhaps the Dodgers would take on Crawford given their new ownership and the boatload of money they have. I think it would be easier to get Brett Lawrie to not show emotion during a game than it will be to move Crawford. In short, we’re stuck with him and a July return is questionable. He’s just now hitting off the tee and has yet to begin throwing, something that could start in a week to ten days. His hour glass is quickly running out of sand with Red Sox Nation before he becomes the latest town villan and quite possibly the worst contract in baseball history.
DS: If it comes down to Bard or Doubront, it’s hands down going to be Bard who would go the bullpen. Felix Doubront has been everything the Red Sox have needed out of a number four starter and although he has yet to go deep in any of his 10 starts, the numbers are impressive; 5-2, 3.86 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and a 2.42 K/BB ratio through 56.0 innings. He’s been the one consistent starter since Opening Day, something Bard is struggling with greatly.
Bard has lost an alarming amount of velocity on his fastball, dropping from an average last year of 98.4mph to 93.7mph this year. A decrease was expected with the move to the rotation, but he can’t reach back and find that high 90’s heat when he needs to put guys away and this is concerning to the club. His control has been a struggle all year reinforced by his 0.97 SO/BB ratio. His last 28.2 innings he has walked 19 batters and struck out just 12. Something is up with him and a move to the bullpen with Dice-K returns may be the best remedy for him. Bard wants to start but he may need to put his ego aside and do what’s best for the team which is give up his roster spot and try and rediscover his blazing fastball from the bullpen.