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May 09. 2013 12:29AM

Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: Webster doesn't help gap in Sox' rotation


Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia speaks to starting pitcher Allen Webster during the first inning Wednesday at Fenway Park. The Twins battered the rookie pitcher in a 15-8 win over Boston. (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)
BOSTON --- There weren't a lot of people in Fenway Park at the start of Wednesday night's tilt between the Red Sox and Twins. Sure, there was a threat of rain, but one might've thought a chance to see hyped Boston pitching prospect Allen Webster make his second big-league start would have coaxed the faithful into their seats on time.

As it turned out, though, it wasn't exactly an event those in attendance will wistfully remember.

Surely, it was one Webster would quickly love to forget. He was tagged for four runs in his first inning of work, and then - after Jonny Gomes' grand slam erased those tallies and Stephen Drew's bloop single gave the Red Sox the lead - he was touched for four more when he came back out in the second.

He didn't even finish that frame, finishing his night by recording only five outs, and two of those were run-scoring sacrifice flies. Each of the tallies against him was earned, the penalty for surrendering six hits and three walks, and so on the night Webster was supposed to be taking Felix Doubront's spot in the Sox rotation, Doubront was still forced to throw 105 pitches and work 5 1/3 innings.

In that sense, the fallout from Wednesday night would theoretically have an easy fix as the team tries to figure out what happens next: Webster goes back to Pawtucket today, and Doubront in on track to take his regular turn during next week's trip to Tampa Bay. Except Doubront (12 hits, six runs) was barely better than Webster.

So all of a sudden it's starting to seem as though the Sox have a big question mark at the back of their rotation - and don't have much in the way of an answer.

Already Doubront's periodic inconsistency and poor performance last weekend in Texas had put his status as a starter in such doubt that Webster was promoted to take his place this time through, and while some believe Webster will be a factor in the majors at some point this season, Wednesday strongly suggested that point isn't now. And it may not be for a while.

The Twins arrived having scored the third-fewest runs among American League teams, thanks in part to the AL's lowest slugging percentage, yet Minnesota teed off on Webster. His fastball typically lived between 94-96 mph, but Ryan Doumit hit a 97 mph heater for a home run that was among two Twins' taters and five extra-base hits.

He did prompt six missed swings, though the results were a far cry from what the 23-year-old delivered during a scintillating spring training, or at Triple-A, where he's surrendered just a single homer among 12 hits in 20 innings. He also has 26 strikeouts, so the numbers say he's been dominant against that caliber of competition - though he's clearly got plenty of work still to do before he's really ready for the next level, and so the Sox should see to it that their organization's fourth-rated prospect gets the appropriate opportunities.

The problem is that they still need someone to pitch immediately. And the alternatives are sparse. Doubront's earned run average is up to 6.40, and at age 25 he might also benefit from a chance to take a step back and work things out (either in the bullpen or via a visit to the disabled list, followed by a rehab assignment). So the Sox could again look to the minors.

If the Sox can create space on their 40-man roster, that could mean a big break for Salem, N.H.'s own Terry Doyle, who has posted a 3.03 ERA through his first six starts this year and has posted a 2.89 over parts of two seasons at Triple-A. Another option might be Steven Wright, the knuckleballer who struggled as a major-league reliever earlier this season, but has been excellent (1.69 ERA) in four starts for the PawSox.

Then, of course, there's Alfredo Aceves. When he was demoted after a brutal start near the end of April some among Red Sox Nation thought they'd seen the last of the zany righty. However, he allowed just two runs over his first 12 innings for Pawtucket, and at least he'd bring a major-league pedigree.

It's hardly an appealing list of options - but that's basically from what Ben Cherington and John Farrell will be forced to choose. Going into Wednesday they had to hope Webster would make their choice easy, and if he didn't than maybe Doubront might.

It didn't happen, though, so it wasn't until the eighth inning that the crowd (which supposedly peaked at 29,969) had real reason to cheer. By then the Sox trailed by a touchdown, 14-7, but word arrived quickly that the Bruins had won their playoff game in overtime, thanks to David Krejci's hat trick.

They earned that cheer. After all, hours before, the Sox and Twins had played two innings in the time it took the Bruins and Maple Leafs to all but eight minutes of two full periods. It'd been a long night at the ballpark.

And unless the Sox find a solution for their fifth starter situation soon, it won't likely be the last of those.




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Third baseman Will Middlebrooks was out of the lineup a night after colliding with catcher David Ross as the two chased a foul pop. Middlebrooks went for an MRI earlier Wednesday, and complained of sore ribs, but neither his condition nor Ross' was such that the Sox made a roster move to fortify their roster. Both are considered day-to-day.

Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is ddonof13@gmail.com.

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