Bedard could be postseason factor with Sox
Lefty shows what he's capable of doing in final three innings
BOSTON -- Erik Bedard has stepped into an important role with the Boston Red Sox. Now, can he pitch up to the necessary level?
Bedard's first six starts for the Red Sox, taken as a whole, have placed him in that broad, gray area that lies between impressive and inadequate. He's been OK, all right, reasonably good, neither the talk of the town, nor a mistaken acquisition.
On Saturday, there was encouragement to be taken from the fact that Bedard recorded his first victory in a Boston uniform. It was not necessarily Bedard's fault that he had not won in his first five starts with the Red Sox. He received relatively little run support.
Bedard could have expected that with the Mariners earlier this season, but being traded to the Red Sox would have seemed like the cure for that condition. But no, the Red Sox scored just 13 runs in those first five starts, so although Bedard compiled a 3.46 ERA, all he got out of it was an 0-2 record.
His teammates with the bats compensated for this shortcoming against the Rangers on Saturday, overcoming an early three-run deficit, putting up eight runs in the fourth inning and eventually prevailing 12-7.
"Just a matter of time," Bedard said of the erruption of runs on his behalf. "You're not going to keep this offense down that long."
This was a mixed performance on Bedard's part, but encouraging because the last three innings were significantly better than the first three. Bedard walked three men in the second and third, including the leadoff man in both innings. All three walks eventually scored. But he finished with three shutout innings. Given the big cushion after the fourth inning, Bedard responded with his best work, striking out four batters in his last two innings. He finished with the minimum requirement for a quality start -- three earned runs or less in six innings.
"They're scoring and they're adding on, and then he's able to stop it," manager Terry Francona said of Bedard's performance. "Then we have the big inning and the game gets turned around."
Bedard attributed his improved performance after the third inning to better command, particularly of his fastball. He missed nearly all of July with a sprained left knee, and Francona suggested that some residual soreness was creating occasional problems for Bedard's command, the tendency being to throw with the arm rather than the whole body. Bedard acknowledged that he had some initial soreness in the knee Saturday, but said that it was not a problem as the game went on.
When healthy, Bedard's ability has not been an issue for doubt. How much more he can give the Red Sox over the next two months remains to be seen.
As it now stands, Bedard figures to be in the Red Sox's rotation for the American League Division Series. Even if Clay Buchholz makes a remarkable recovery from a stress fracture in his back, he is unlikely to make it back as a starter for the first round. So Bedard, one way or the other, could be a major postseason factor for the Red Sox.
The argument that Bedard is not psychologically suited to working in the high-profile, high-pressure Red Sox environment has been frequently made. Bedard had a reputation earlier in his career for not being particularly fond of dealing with the media. The Red Sox are covered in Boston as something of a religious experience, every moment being weighted with significance, each individual act being examined to determine if the cause has been adequately served. This is, to put it mildly, a media-intensive situation.
On the other hand, Bedard will be given all of the support that he requires by the Boston organization. In the end, what will determine his success or failure with the Red Sox will be the quality of his work on the mound, not the quality of his interaction with the media.
And it must be said that in his postgame media session Saturday, he handled routine questions routinely, answering with a full measure of cooperation and candor. Perhaps he has matured in his dealings with the media. Perhaps the media have matured in their dealings with him.
Either way or both ways, if Bedard pitches very well for the Red Sox, he'll be fine in Boston. You could see Saturday, working against a very tough lineup, bouncing back from initial difficulties to keep his team in a game it would eventually win, how he could be headed in that direction.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.