Why Sox don't reveal Opening Day starter

February, 23, 2011
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There was a time, Red Sox manager Terry Francona said, that he would announce his Opening Day starter early in camp.

"Probably Schill, back when I was with the Phillies,'' he said Wednesday, referring to Curt Schilling during Francona's years in Philadelphia (1997-2000). "We couldn't come up with our No. 2. We had to send Calvin Maduro down and bring him back.''

In his first season with the Red Sox, Francona declared Pedro Martinez his Opening Day starter in late February, but there were extenuating circumstances: It was Schilling's first season with the Red Sox, and Francona was dealing with a very sensitive ego in Martinez. In 2005, with Martinez gone, Schilling was pegged as Opening Day starter but got hurt, the Sox turning instead to 41-year-old David Wells.

Since then, Francona has avoided any early-spring pronouncements, even though other clubs, including Boston's Opening Day opponent, the Texas Rangers, have already announced theirs, the Rangers going with left-hander C.J. Wilson. Too much can happen in the interim, he said.

"Just doesn't make a lot of sense,'' Francona said. "Somebody's going to have to answer a lot of questions, including myself, when I'd rather get through the bulk of spring and know for a fact that's what's going to happen. Somebody's struggling a little bit, somebody slips on the mound and misses a start, weather, we'd rather wait.''

Wilson presents a formidable challenge to the Sox. The former reliever, in his first full season as a starter, went 3-0 with an 0.86 ERA in three starts against the Sox, by far the lowest ERA of any starting pitcher with at least 15 innings against Boston in 2010. In 21 innings, he allowed just 11 hits (no home runs) and struck out 20.

The next lowest ERA of any starter with at least 15 innings against the Sox was the 2.43 posted by Orioles rookie lefty Brian Matusz, who went 2-0 in 29 2/3 innings. (My thanks to BaseballMusings.com for their terrific database.)

Josh Beckett has started the last two openers for the Red Sox, and would seem to be the likely candidate to make it three straight this year, although a strong case could be made for 19-game winner Jon Lester or even Clay Buchholz, whose 2.33 ERA was second lowest in the AL, behind the 2.27 posted by Seattle's Felix Hernandez.

Beckett would have started three straight but in 2008 was left behind with back issues when the Sox went to Japan, Daisuke Matsuzaka pitching the opener instead. The other Opening Day starter in Francona's time here was Schilling, who pitched the opener in both 2006 and 2007.

Martinez and Roger Clemens hold the Sox record for most consecutive Opening Day starts, seven. Clemens made eight overall, most in club history.

Who do you think should be the Opening Day starter? Have your say in the comments section of this blog entry.

Gordon Edes

ESPN Staff Writer



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