Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

GABBARD'S STOCK RISES

With his complete-game shutout over the Royals, rookie Kason Gabbard may have increased his value, answered some questions, and solved some problems.

Perhaps the Red Sox got more than they expected when Kason Gabbard was called upon to make spot starts in Curt Schilling's absence. The rookie was supposed to be in the rotation just long enough for the veteran hurler to heal his shoulder and resume game-action. But the way he's pitched may have changed that plan.

In five starts this season, Gabbard is 3-0 with a 3.38 ERA. Equally impressive are the 25 strike outs and just 21 hits in his 29.1 innings. Those numbers help explain the 25-year-old lefty's recent success.

His season's highlight came in the complete-game shutout over the Royals last night at Fenway. Gabbard looked like anything but a rookie while surrendering just three hits -- all singles -- and one walk in route to a 4-0 victory. The dominating performance was punctuated by eight strike outs.

But with Schilling expected back by the end of this month, or perhaps the beginning of August, what will that mean for Gabbard?

For his part, Schilling seems optimistic about his impending return. After throwing 31 pitches in two innings of a simulated game against four Sox batters yesterday afternoon, he sounded somewhat confident.

"Hopefully, I'll be better than I was at any point during the season earlier in the year," Schilling said. "From a feel standpoint. From a performance standpoint."

As to the health of his shoulder compared to when he went on the DL, Schilling said: "There's no comparison. I was throwing the ball 84 miles an hour in Atlanta. I thought I threw the ball well [today]. My arm didn't feel anything like it did at any point this season. I take that as a good thing."

A healthy and effective Schilling would go a long way toward making the Red Sox a World Series contender once again. It would also keep them from having to make a hasty deadline deal for another starter. And that's exactly how he sees it.

"My goal is to come back and have an impact and literally be a kind of trading-deadline pickup and be effective and win a lot of games between now and the end of the World Series," said Schilling.

Replacing pitcher of Schilling's caliber is very difficult and would be costly. A Roy Oswalt or a Dontrelle Willis would be an expensive acquisition requiring the Red Sox to part with some their valued core of prospects, such as Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and/or Jacoby Ellsbury. You can bet that it would require a pair among this prized trio to land a frontline starter.

Schilling was a key component in the Red Sox 2004 championship season and, if he's healthy, he would go a long way toward helping the club to another this year. Terry Francona gave further reason for optimism after Schilling's session yesterday.

"He threw the ball in his bullpen, and today, better than at any point since he arrived in spring training. That's a very fair statement," said Francona.

That says a lot about Schilling's 6-4 record and 4.20 ERA. He's had to fight for all of it, and it hasn't come easy. Even in his best game this season, the one-hit performance against Oakland, Schilling said he didn't feel "extraordinary," but simply lucky. "I didn't do anything exceptional. They hit balls right at people."

That said, the return of a healthy and vibrant Schilling to the rotation's three-spot would be a shot in the arm for a team that has been just average over the past month. Furthermore, keeping Gabbard at number five would give the Sox an even better rotation down the stretch. Sox fans have been concerned about the fifth starter role all season long, and the answer appears to have been found -- in house. What's more, the move would deepen the bullpen with the addition of a righty set-up man, Julian Tavarez.

Gabbard's stellar performance was just the third complete game of the season by a Sox pitcher, the others by Daisuke Matsuzaka and Curt Schilling. In getting there, Gabbard threw an economical 107 pitches and faced just three batters over the minimum. That allowed for a quick and economical game, lasting just 2 hours and 18 minutes.

Gabbard's feat was special and placed him in some pretty good company. He became the first Sox rookie to throw a nine-inning shutout since Paul Quantrill, on July 4, 1993 at Seattle. He is the first Sox rookie since Roger Clemens, on July 26, 1984, to throw a nine-inning shutout at Fenway, and the first lefty rookie to spin a shutout at Fenway since Roger Moret did it on September 24, 1971.

The Sox rotation certainly could use a lefty, and at this point Gabbard appears more prepared for big league hitters than Jon Lester. In fact, as strange as it may seem, Gabbard's surprising success may actually benefit his former Pawtucket teammate in that it might keep the Sox from being reactionary and making a hasty trade that could cost them Lester.

While Gabbard's rise through the organization wasn't nearly as heralded as that of Jonathan Papelbon, Lester, or Clay Buchholz, his immediate value is even greater than the latter two. Clearly, his recent outings have raised his trade value, but the Red Sox seemed determined to continue their youth movement and promote the minor league players they've drafted and developed.

Hanging on to Gabbard is certainly much less expensive than the acquisition of a multi-million dollar veteran, which would also cost the team its prized prospects. That, in turn, would allow the Sox to focus on other needs, such as trying to add one more bat to its struggling offense.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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