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September 14, 1999

AL East Notebook

Roger Clemens and the Red Sox bullpen

by Keith Law

The Yankees' other fat toad

As the Yankees coast to their third division title in four years, Joe Torre and company must begin to examine candidates for the probable playoff roster, including choosing his postseason rotation. The subject hasn't received much press, but Torre should consider leaving Roger Clemens out of that rotation entirely.

Clemens has been more or less dismal all season, posting the worst ERA of the Yanks' five main starters (0.03 above Andy Pettitte), and putting up similar numbers before and after the All-Star Break - even though his groin injury has allegedly healed. Were it not for a strong outing against the mighty Twins, Clemens' post-ASB ERA would be around 5, which is hardly an argument in his favor.

Torre isn't likely to leave Clemens out for several reasons. Clemens is the team's highest-paid pitcher, and George Steinbrenner won't stand for having that kind of money in the bullpen. Clemens is also capable of the occasional dominating start, which weighs more heavily in the mind of the average manager than it should. And Clemens' competition for the role hasn't been stellar, with Hideki Irabu putting up a 6.95 ERA in August and Orlando Hernandez struggling with his control at times.

However, Torre might do well to just shut Clemens down for the rest of the season to try to give the groin a chance to heal further. It has clearly affected Clemens' mechanics past the point at which Rajah claimed it was healed (that cackling sound you hear is from the Fenway bleachers), and getting some rest in meaningless games can't hurt him.

Fun and games in the Red Sox bullpen

Credit Jimy Williams for not oversubscribing to this closer nonsense. Rod Beck has finished 2 games since his arrival - half the number finished by erstwhile closer Derek Lowe - and has pitched acceptably, giving up just a hit in four innings (albeit with three walks). What's more impressive is Williams' tacit acknowledgement that the hot hand is better than the experienced one. Lowe has been between good and excellent in the closer's role this year, and the acquisition of Beck makes more sense if Williams isn't handing the ball to the occasionally incendiary, always portly reliever in crucial ninth-inning situations. None of this excuses giving up Cole Liniak for him, but at least the Sox aren't damaging themselves any more than they must.

While everyone was focused on the Beck acquisition (and/or the disposal of Mark Guthrie), no one noticed the strong performance by John Wasdin. Wasdin, scapegoated earlier in the year for the team's overall pitching struggles, recovered from an unusually unlucky August (12 H and 3 BB in 13 IP, but 8 ER allowed) to throw 6.2 dominating innings in the final month's first 8 days. Wasdin has surrendered just two hits - both doubles - this month, without allowing either runner to score. While indicative of the dangers of small sample sizes, it also could lead to more important work for Wasdin in the next few weeks. With Lowe, Beck, and Rich Garces pitching well, and Rheal Cormier pitching better than Rheal Cormier has any right to expect, the Sox are well-situated for the next few weeks in an area of great weakness earlier this year.

Notes

OK, so the Blue Jays called Jose Cruz back up, but what are they going to do with him? They've committed to playing Vernon Wells every day, and they're not going to sit Shawn Green or Shannon Stewart, so Cruz is left to rot on the bench and curse the day Woody Woodward lost his senses. Cruz will be a very good player next year for some other organization... The Devil Rays rewarded Bubba Trammell with a rare start the other day, and he went 3-for-4 with a homer and 3 RBI. The team's unwillingness to play him is just astounding, given their place in the standings, but like Cruz, Trammell is a breakout candidate if he moves on this offseason.

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MORE BY KEITH LAW
2000-04-05 - ToutWars Roundup
1999-10-16 - A Surprise in Cleveland
1999-10-05 - Playoff Prospectus
1999-09-14 - AL East Notebook
1999-07-15 - Another Blown Call?
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