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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The Indians are unveiling a Frank Robinson statue on Sunday

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The Cleveland Indians will unveil a Frank Robinson statue at Progressive Field on Saturday.

Robinson’s tenure in Cleveland was not long, but it was historic. On April 8, 1975, he became the first African-American manager in Major League history. He was a player-manager. One of the last ones, in fact. He spent two years in that role and then a third year — a partial year anyway — as a manager only. Robinson would go on to manage the Giants, Orioles and the Expos/Nationals, compiling a career record of 1065-1176 in 16 seasons. He is now a top MLB executive.

Robinson was, of course, a Hall of Fame player as well, lodging 21 seasons for the Reds, Orioles, Dodgers, Angels and Indians. He won two MVP awards and hit for the Triple Crown in 1966. Overall he hit 586 home runs – 10th all time – and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. For an inner-circle Hall of Famer with that kind of resume he is still, strangely enough, underrated. I guess that happens when your contemporaries are Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle.

Anyway, congrats to Frank Robinson for yet another well-deserved honor in a career full of them.

Hey kids: don’t swing a weighted bat in the on deck circle

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Here’s an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal. It’s about some studies of hitters who use weighted bats or doughnuts on their bats in the on deck circle. Turns out that, contrary to conventional wisdom, using a weighted bat for practice hacks does not speed up one’s swing when one uses a naked bat in the batter’s box. In fact, it slows it down.

There are lots of caveats here. The sample size in the studies are small and they all involve college and high school players, not big leaguers. The results, however, are consistent with previous studies and they do make some intuitive sense. This is particularly the case with batting doughnuts, which add weight to a very concentrated portion of the bat, thereby changing the center of gravity and thus the swing mechanics of the hitter.

Whether this is applicable at large or to higher level hitters or not, I still find it kind of neat. I always like it when people scrutinize ingrained habits and ask whether or not that thing we’ve always done is, in fact, worth doing.