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April 10, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

One "M" Is Plenty

by Joe Sheehan

The Red Sox have started the season slowly, squeezing a four-game losing streak between two Pedro Martinez starts. I've seen both games, and I'm pretty much convinced that he's the dominant player--not just pitcher, but player--in the game today, and I encourage anyone with the opportunity to see him perform in person to do so.

In his two starts, Martinez has allowed seven singles and three walks in 14 1/2 innings, while striking out 23 hitters. He's been charged with just one run, and that one scored after he'd been pulled from the game. This isn't just a streak: this is the performance level he's established.

What's been impressive isn't just his performance, but how he has been handled. Sox manager Jimy Williams has shown admirable restraint with his meal ticket. In Martinez's first start, he was pulled after seven shutout innings, holding a two-run lead. He'd thrown 108 pitches at that point, not an unreasonable amount. Yesterday, Williams removed Martinez in the middle of the eighth, after 111 pitches and the first walk the right-hander has issued all day.

This conservative handling of Martinez is laudable. Yes, Williams has an excellent reliever in Derek Lowe (who finished both Martinez starts) to go to, but many, if not most, managers would be loath to remove their ace with a shutout going. Williams did it twice in a week, recognizing that Boston's chances in October depend heavily on Martinez's availability and effectiveness in that month.

It's not the only impressive thing Williams has done. First baseman Brian Daubach started the year hot, hitting two home runs against the Mariners Wednesday. But Daubach rode the bench opening night against left-hander Jamie Moyer, and was pulled for Gary Gaetti against left-handed relievers on Wednesday and Thursday. Gaetti was hitless in relief of Daubach.

But Friday night in Anaheim, with the Sox trailing 6-2, the Angels brought in left-hander Kent Mercker to face Daubach. Williams stayed with him, and Daubach poked a long home run to right field.

There's no real evidence that says Daubach can't hit left-handers. He got just 44 at-bats against them in 1999, batting .273 with a 759 OPS. If the Sox had a credible lefty-masher, someone of the Matt Mieske class, platooning Daubach might make some sense. But to have him share time with Gaetti, who is 18 months past his expiration date, is a waste of time. And maybe, just maybe, Williams knows this and will give Daubach more opportunities to be an everyday player.

I was impressed last year with how Williams handled his bullpen in the postseason, leaning heavily on his most effective arms. In just a few games this spring, he's shown himself to be a good handler of his ace's arm and willing to break out of the lockstep platooning of a good player, in favor of playing the best talent he has. These are good signs for Red Sox Nation.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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