The adventure that is Red Sox pitching

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byrd_paul_090830.jpgAs the Boston Red Sox continue to slog their way toward a potential playoff berth, there are three constant worries: Pitching, pitching and pitching.

The rotation has been an adventure all season, from the failed experiments of John Smoltz and Brad Penny, the erratic behavior and performances of Daisuke Matsuzaka, and the quiet strength of Josh Beckett.

Sunday was a mixed bag, including good, bad and ugly. It all makes you wonder what Boston’s rotation will look like come playoff time, provided they manage to hold off the Texas Rangers in the AL wild card race.

First the good:

Paul Byrd (pictured), a late-season pickup for Boston for the second straight season, dazzled in his first major league start since last September, not only baffling the Toronto Blue Jays, but outdueling Roy Halladay in the process, leading the Red Sox to a 7-0 victory.

Even better, Byrd claims to be a man of many talents:

“I’m just so excited to be back. I want a World Series ring,” he said. “Hopefully I can help this team get there. I’ll clean toilets if I have to, and I told them that.”

The bad:

Tim Wakefield, who had just returned last week after 5 ½ weeks on the disabled list, will have to have a cortisone shot on Monday after his 43-year-old back acted up once again.

Wakefield was an All-Star after anchoring the Red Sox’s rotation in the first half. But now it appears that age is finally catching up to the veteran knuckleballer.

“We’ll go from there and see if (the shot) takes and, if so, I’ll be pitching in a week or so,” Wakefield said Sunday morning before a game against Toronto.

The ugly:

Dice-K, out since June with a right shoulder strain, was horrendous in a minor league start on Sunday, allowing five runs in the first inning of a 5-3 loss. He pitched a perfect second inning, but his insane pitch count (49 in the first inning), meant his outing was cut short.

But hey, at least Clay Buchholz seems to be coming around. Or at least gaining confidence.

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Jason Kipnis could join Team Israel for 2017 World Baseball Classic

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Jason Kipnis #22 of the Cleveland Indians throws during batting practice prior to Game Seven of the 2016 World Series against the Chicago Cubs at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, Team Israel has reportedly reached out to Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Tournament rules stipulate that a player’s roster eligibility can be achieved in one of several ways: they were born in the country in question or hold citizenship/permanent legal residence there (or are simply capable of qualifying for citizenship), or one of their parents was born in the country or holds citizenship/permanent legal residence there.

For Kipnis, it’s the latter. Kipnis’ father, Mark Kipnis, is Jewish. That gives Kipnis the status he needs to suit up for Team Israel, despite the fact that he is a practicing Roman Catholic. He has yet to confirm or deny his participation in the competition.

Fifteen players have confirmed for Team Israel so far, including Mets’ infielder/outfielder Ty Kelly and free agents Sam Fuld, Nate Freiman, Jason Marquis and Jeremy Bleich. Per MLB.com’s Chad Thornburg, eight minor leaguers will also appear for the team. Like Kipnis, at least three other major leaguers are eligible for Team Israel’s roster but have yet to accept or decline involvement in the WBC: Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson, Mariners infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia and free agent left-hander Craig Breslow.

Rangers to sign James Loney to minor league deal

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 21: James Loney #28 of the New York Mets tosses to first base against the San Francisco Giants during the second inning at AT&T Park on August 21, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  The New York Mets defeated the San Francisco Giants 2-0. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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Free agent first baseman James Loney has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. The deal includes an invite to spring training and a $1 million salary if he makes the major league roster in 2017.

Loney picked up a one-year stint and starting role with the Mets in 2016, slashing .265/.307/.397 with nine home runs in 336 PA. While his numbers were down a hair from the .280/.322/.357 batting line he produced with the Rays in 2015, he provided the Mets with a necessary, if underwhelming upgrade over an injured Lucas Duda through most of the season.

The 32-year-old infielder is expected to have some competition at first base, with at least five other candidates in the mix: Jurickson Profar, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo and Josh Hamilton. Rumor has it that the team is planning on platooning Rua and Profar in 2017, barring any impressive breakouts or injuries during spring training, though Loney could still provide the club with some veteran depth and a decent left-handed bat off the bench.