PAWTUCKET – If the Red Sox were in need of a starting pitcher and turned to Pawtucket to fill the void, which PawSox hurler would get the call?
If your answer is Brandon Duckworth, congratulations. From the first day of the season Duckworth has been the most consistent and dependable arm at Pawtucket’s disposal. The 35-year-old strengthened his resume Friday night, holding first-place Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to one run in seven innings in what amounted to a 2-1 loss by the PawSox before 4,512 at McCoy Stadium.
Even though John Lackey is still in line to make his next scheduled start, one has to figure that the struggles the righthander alluded to following Wednesday’s disastrous outing could result in a departure from the rotation, be it to clear his head or fix whatever mechanical flaw is hindering him. Tim Wakefield figures to be the likely choice to replace Lackey, the assumption based on the loyalty the knuckleballer has shown as Boston continues to shuffle him between the rotation and the bullpen.
After Wakefield? Waiting in the wings is Duckworth, now 4-2 with a 3.27 ERA for Pawtucket. Friday’s outing marking the second time he’s logged seven innings, as Duckworth has failed to pitch into the sixth inning in only two of his seven starts. What has helped separate Duckworth from his Pawtucket peers is the current status of Felix Doubront and Andrew Miller, two pitchers ahead of Duckworth on the depth chart when the season began. Doubront is sidelined with a left groin strain while Miller continues to deal with control issues (24 innings in 30 2/3 innings).
Duckworth’s toughest inning Friday was the top of the first, when Scranton loaded the bases with no outs. A sac fly by Jorge Vazquez gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead, though it should be noted that PawSox right fielder Matt Sheely had the fly ball glance off his glove. After that Duckworth was on top of his game, allowing just one hit in his final six innings.
“He did a good job pitching out of that jam in the first in giving up just that one run,” said PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler about Duckworth, who would have to be added to Boston’s 40-man roster. “He settled down and was really efficient.”
The offensive doldrums continued for Pawtucket, a club that went 21 straight innings and 38 of its last 39 frames without a run before getting on the scoreboard in the last of the ninth. Daniel Nava ended the streak of futility with a groundout that scored Hector Luna, a play that would have tied the game at 1-1 had the Junior Yankees not pushed across an unearned run in the top of the ninth.
Newcomer Brent Dlugach had a chance to extend the game but ended things with a fly out to medium centerfield. Lars Anderson, who lined a double to left-center, was left stranded at third.
Yankees catching prospect Jesus Montero was ejected in the third inning after taking a called third strike. Montero turned around and motioned to homeplate umpire Lance Barrett as if to say the pitch was high, something that didn’t sit well with Barrett. Defensively Josh Reddick turned in two highlight-reel catches. The center fielder went back to take away extra bases from Scranton’s Justin Maxwell in the seventh before sprawling out on his stomach in the ninth.
The PawSox, who sat just one-half game out of first place on Monday, have lost four in a row since.