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Red Sox ponder using a six-pack of starters

Even with two World Series titles in the last four years, the Boston Red Sox never stop thinking about how they can get a leg up on the competition. The Sox are in an unusual situation with their starting rotation as they have two ace types (Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka), two budding young stars (Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz) and two 40-somethings who are still productive but clearly on their last legs (Curt Schilling and Tim Wakefield). So what might they do in 2008?1

A definite possibility is a first in the big leagues -- a six-man rotation. It's what Dice-K worked under in Japan, would help preserve the young arms and not overwork the old ones. And it could be workable with Beckett making his starts mostly on normal rest and the other five starters getting the extra day.

In announcing Schilling's return with a one-year deal, Boston General Manager Theo Epstein recently acknowledged the six-man staff has already been discussed and is an issue the team is likely going to ponder further in the weeks leading to spring training.

"I think it's premature to commit to any usage pattern," Epstein said. "But certainly we're in a little bit of a unique situation where you could say a number of our starters might benefit from something like that one way or the other."

Schilling, who has incentive clauses based on his weight written into his one-year deal, has already endorsed the concept. Matsuzaka, who won 15 games but had some trouble adjusting to the rigors of the American season, would certainly like to go back to a routine that he was familiar with in Japan.

The Sox are wary of pushing the envelope too much with Lester, still on the road back from cancer, and Buchholz. Even though he threw a no-hitter in September, Buchholz was held off the postseason roster because he was pushing the innings limit the team imposed on its top pitching prospect.

No one throws 300 innings in a season anymore -- or even comes close. The leader this year was Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia with just 241. So keeping Beckett around 215-220 and their young prospects in the 160-180 range is where the Sox seemingly want to be.

Matsuzaka, meanwhile, returned home to Tokyo last week and was mobbed by reporters at the airport. Even though he won 15 games in his first season, it was an uneven campaign for a pitcher that Japanese reporters felt would be an instant star in the States.

"As a team, [winning the World Series] was the best," Matsuzaka said. "But as for personal accomplishment, it was not up to my standards. I feel that my command was something I need to improve."

The six-man rotation might help Dice-K, and he has another idea. At the end of the World Series, he told the Japanese media that he will talk to the Sox about allowing him to take batting practice much of the season to help keep his legs in shape.


>So long, Dodgertown

It's turning into an ugly divorce for the Dodgers and their longtime spring home of Vero Beach, Fla. Fans are furious because it looks like the last spring training at beloved Dodgertown will be cut short by three weeks as the team will play exhibition games next March in China against the Padres and then finish spring training at Oakland's complex in Arizona rather than returning to Florida.

After 60 years in Vero Beach, the Dodgers are scheduled to go to Glendale, Ariz. in 2009 but they have not formally notified the city of the move pending construction of their new complex.

Officials in Indian River County (Fla.) are threatening to revoke the Dodgers' lease unless they commit to 10 games this spring but the Dodgers have responded by threatening to sell Dodgertown to developers rather than letting it revert back to the county so it can be used for another team in '09.

The Dodgers, by the way, are planning to play an exhibition game against the Red Sox in the Los Angeles Coliseum in March to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their move to the West.

The Coliseum, which featured a 42-foot screen in left field to protect a grandstand that was just 250 feet from home plate, was their home for four years until Dodger Stadium opened in 1962. The Red Sox are the opponent because they will be en route to Japan to open their season.


>Parkas optional

The Indians dealt with four days of snow this year that wiped out their entire opening series against the Mariners and forced them to move games against the Angels to Milwaukee. So when is the Tribe opening its 2008 slate at Jacobs Field? March 31 against the White Sox. Brrrrr.

For Buffalo-area fans, the Tribe's home schedule stinks. The Red Sox (April 14-15) and Yankees (April 25-28) both make their only trips to Cleveland in the season's first 26 games.

The schedule-makers have little sense of drama, with the Boston rematch from the ALCS being just a two-gamer.

The most interesting interleague game is a return of Omar Vizquel with the Giants (June 24-26). Interleague games against the Joe Torre-led Dodgers and Rockies, which would be very attractive, are all on the road.


>Goalpost to go

White Sox groundskeeper Roger Bossard, heading up the project to install new turf and drainage across town at Wrigley Field, came across a big surprise recently when a bulldozer was tearing up the grass between first base and home plate. The blade struck a cement block base to the old goalposts used by the Bears when they played games at Wrigley.

The team hasn't played there since 1970 so the post has been buried under grass and dirt for 37 years.

The field, meanwhile, is being lowered 14 inches and then leveled. One issue: The team can't send excessive amounts of rain runoff into the city sewer system because the ballpark is smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood. So it's installing a moisture-retention area that will hold 60,000 gallons of water before slowly draining it off.


>Around the horn

* That big deal Torii Hunter signed with the Angels on Thanksgiving was a huge blow for the Twins, who were hopeful of keeping their core players together as they got closer to moving into their new stadium in 2010. Seems like a pipe dream now.

With Hunter gone, Johan Santana is almost certainly going to force the issue of a trade. A Santana deal now looks like it will be front-burner hot stove talk when the winter meetings open Dec. 3 in Nashville.

* The Indians made a quick strike to augment their bullpen by signing right-hander Masa Kobayashi last week from the Chiba Lotte Marines to a two-year deal with a club option for 2010. The success of Hideki Okajima in Boston has plenty of clubs looking to Japan for some experienced bullpen help.

You also wonder if this is a way for the Tribe to get Rafael Perez back into a starting slot if Cy Young winner Sabathia can't be re-signed past next season.

By the way, the next Japanese starter likely to land in the big leagues is 32-year-old Hiroki Kuroda. He has a 103-89 record in 11 seasons with the Hiroshima Carp, which has been managed the last two years by former Bisons skipper Marty Brown.

* They're now officially called the Tampa Bay Rays and they'll be sporting new uniforms in 2008. No Devil in them anymore. And, like the day they were born in 1998, no hope of being relevant in the AL East either.

* Is mega-agent Scott Boras getting irrelevant? That may be a bit harsh but that is the word Nationals GM Jim Bowden used last week. First, Boras took a huge PR hit in the A-Rod affair and then Tigers left-hander Kenny Rogers fired him. Boras was pushing Rogers as a $10 million player and no one was biting. The Tigers are offering $8 million and Rogers has made it clear he wants to return.

Boras, of course, was advising his client to shop elsewhere for more money. Rogers wanted to stay and told the agent to go. Wish more players would think for themselves and do the same.


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