Boston Red Sox: Count on Seeing Justin Masterson in the 'Pen

Nick CovielloCorrespondent IMarch 12, 2009

Each Spring Training, there always seems to be one big headliner for the Boston Red Sox.

Or two...or 10.

This year, one of the most intriguing headlines is the situation with Justin Masterson. With Brad Penny starting the year on the DL, should the spot in the rotation be handed back to Masterson, who started nine games for the Sox last year, or should it go to future ace Clay Buchholz?

Yes, the Masterson debate has become a hot topic in New England, and I felt obligated to research it for myself.

When I looked up Masterson's starting statistics I found that as he started more games, he was getting roughed up more and more. After all, that’s the beauty and misery of being a young pitcher who no one has a game plan for.

For the first couple of games, a rookie might mow down opposing batters, leaving teams stumped; however, as more and more teams get a look at the pitcher, they’ll eventually catch on to his techniques, and it is then up to the pitcher to truly create their own game plan and their own way of handling the opposition.

However, with Masterson, I found one stat to be a little more concerning than the rest. During his stint as a starting pitcher, Masterson pitched 54 innings and, unsurprisingly, struck out a good amount of batters; however, Masterson also walked 28 batters.

It is no secret that starting pitchers who walk a good amount of batters usually aren’t as effective as they could be; just ask Daniel Cabrera. Knowing that Masterson struggled to find the plate at times, I was a bit uneasy when he was moved into the bullpen; after all, the Red Sox already had young Manny Delcarmen in the 'pen, who is known to lose command at times.

However, in 33-1/3 innings coming out of the 'pen, Masterson only walked 12 batters while only allowing nine runs.

Masterson continued to work from the bullpen in the 2008 postseason and played a key role in the Sox' defeat of the Angels in the Divisional Round. It is the 2008 postseason that makes it obvious where Masterson will remain: the bullpen.

The Sox had a hurting Josh Beckett in the postseason and therefore had to rely on guys like Paul Byrd and Tim Wakefield.

Wouldn’t Terry Francona have handed the ball to Justin Masterson if he believed he could give a better starting performance than Wakefield or Byrd?

Or, as a more likely reason, Francona realized that Masterson had become as important to the Sox bullpen as Hideki Okajima. Yes, the Red Sox had other options to confide in when they needed a spot starter; options that made it a no-brainer to keep Masterson in the bullpen.

The way I see it, the 2009 Red Sox won’t have a much different feel. The Red Sox have a lot of depth in their rotation, as the names include Beckett, Matsuzaka, Lester, Wakefield, Penny, Smoltz, Buchholz, and Hansack.

Odds are, the Red Sox won’t reach the level of desperation needed to move Masterson from the pen—a place where he’s been more effective, more consistent, and more important to the team—to the rotation.

Justin Masterson will be in the Red Sox bullpen come the 2009 season.