The Boston Red Sox’s top prospects have garnered a lot of attention this spring. However, the team and its fans should be most encouraged by the performance of some of their veteran pitchers who are seeking to rebound from a disappointing 2012 season.
Poor pitching was a major contributor to Boston’s 69-93 record last season. The staff’s cumulative 4.70 ERA ranked 12th in the American League.
Unfortunately, some pitchers—who had been counted on to be stalwarts of the pitching staff—submitted surprisingly ineffective seasons.
Despite the results, the Red Sox brought back some of the more disappointing performers in the hopes that they could turn things around in 2013.
It’s beginning to look like that patience might be rewarded.
Hard-throwing right-hander Daniel Bard was one of the best setup men in baseball for several years before Boston attempted to convert him to a starter last season. It was a disaster: He lost velocity and control, leading to a 6.22 ERA on the season and a highly publicized demotion to the minors.
The 27-year-old Bard arrived at camp this spring without the guarantee of a roster spot or knowing if he would be able to put last year’s troubles behind him.
The Red Sox have been careful with the righty thus far and have restored him to the bullpen. They are starting to see their patience pay off.
Bard has not been scored on in five appearances this spring, while striking out seven and walking two in five innings. Most importantly, his fastball is once again being clocked in the mid-90s.
Once nearly off Boston’s 2013 radar, he is now a serious contender to make the team and try to reclaim his once promising career.
Left-hander Jon Lester entered 2012 firmly entrenched as Boston’s ace. The 29-year-old had a combined 65-32 record in the previous four seasons, making him one of the most exciting pitchers in the game.
His success ended last year, as he went just 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA in 33 starts, while allowing a career-high 25 home runs.
As the most successful and arguably talented pitcher on Boston’s staff, Lester has the heavy burden of returning to form as the team ace in 2013.
Like Bard, Lester has looked very good this spring. New Boston manager John Farrell told WEEI’s Alex Speier that he notices a tangible difference in the southpaw. Those changes have also manifested in his numbers.
Lester has allowed just six hits and two earned runs in 14 innings this spring. He has also struck out 10 batters and has yet to allow a home run. If he can carry that effectiveness over to the regular season, the Red Sox may have their ace back.
The pitcher with the most to prove this season in Boston is the enigmatic John Lackey.
After signing a five-year, $82.5 million free-agent contract with the Red Sox prior to the 2010 season, the right-hander was expected to be a major piece of the rotation for years to come.
Instead, he went 26-23 with a 5.26 ERA in his first two seasons. He also became embroiled in a major clubhouse scandal involving fried chicken, beer and video games. Then he ultimately missed all of 2012 because of Tommy John surgery.
Finally healthy once again, the 34-year-old Lackey is expected to rejoin Boston’s rotation and hopefully provide some consistency that was lacking last year.
His focus was noticeable as soon as he reported to camp, where he was lauded for his impeccable physical condition.
While his spring training results have been uneven (8.10 ERA with four strikeouts in 6.2 official innings), he has impressed with his command and control. Coming back from major surgery, he needs to continue getting work in to shake off the rust.
Most recently, he allowed just one run in five innings against a team comprised of Tampa Bay Ray minor league players.
It’s impossible to hazard a guess as to how Lackey will pitch this season, but signs are encouraging that he is healthy and has a chance to finally start living up to his large contract.
If the Red Sox hope to contend in 2013, they will need a lot of help from their pitching. With spring training now more than half over, some of the pitchers being counted on for rebound seasons are off to promising starts.
Statistics via Baseball-Reference