The Boston Red Sox got a big scare on Saturday when pitcher John Lackey, who was making his first start in more than a year, was forced to leave the game with a strained bicep. Although tests are pending, it is a near certainty that he will miss time, and if he does, his most likely replacement in the starting rotation is Alfredo Aceves.
Lackey was cautiously optimistic about the nature of his injury following his removal in the fifth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays, telling WEEI’s Rob Bradford, “It got better when I got inside. It kind of loosened up a little bit. It felt like a pretty good cramp, like a hamstring kind of thing.”
The game was his first major league appearance since September 25, 2011. Since he is coming off Tommy John surgery, it seems likely that his return will be handled gingerly by the Red Sox, even if the extent of his injury is found to be minor.
The Boston Herald’s John Tomase believes the most likely candidate to get starts in Lackey’s absence would be veteran Alfredo Aceves:
The Red Sox stretched him out a bit in spring training, giving him three starts, though Aceves hardly seemed to need them. He already was throwing 95 mph by his second outing in Fort Myers, and is considered one of the most rubber-armed pitchers in the game.
Right-handers Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa may be two of Boston’s best young pitchers, but it is doubtful they will be called upon to step into the big league rotation this early in the season.
The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo writes that it is too soon to bring up either youngster, so Aceves is the most logical choice. This is not only a necessity but also a reflection of a lack of veteran depth in the organization’s pitching:
While the Sox felt good about their depth out of camp, the fact that someone was injured so soon brings to light the reality that while Webster is an excellent prospect and Rubby De La Rosa is also someone who is going to help the Sox this year, this situation could cause some problems right now.
He has a career record of 26-13 with a 3.65 ERA in 185 career major league games. But he has primarily pitched in relief, making just nine career starts and going 2-1 with a 4.18 ERA in those games.
His last start came May 31, 2011 against the Chicago White Sox.
After a stellar first season in Boston in 2011, when he went 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA in 55 games, he struggled last year as the team’s primary closer, going 2-10 with a 5.36 ERA and 25 saves in 69 games.
He is off to a rocky start this year, having allowed two home runs and five earned runs in 4.1 innings spread out over his first two appearances.
If he does join Boston’s starting rotation, it will likely be temporary. If it is determined that Lackey will miss significant time, the Red Sox will look for a better long-term fit.
Hopefully, Lackey’s injury will turn out to be minor and allow him to return shortly. But in the interim, Aceves is poised to step into the void until the Red Sox can sort through their options.
Statistics via Baseball-Reference