David Price declared himself ready to go late Wednesday afternoon. Then his rotation replacement promptly delivered his worst start in nearly two months.
Doug Fister has been a godsend since stepping into the Red Sox rotation in late July, but against the last-place Athletics, he fell flat and stirred familiar questions about the viability of the Red Sox’ starting pitching heading down the stretch and into October.
Fister allowed six runs in the first four innings of a 7-3 loss at Fenway Park Wednesday night. After a Yankees win earlier in the day, the Red Sox division lead slipped to three games.
Assuming they maintain that lead, what to do with their playoff rotation remains a worthy debate.
Fister had a 2.79 ERA in his previous seven starts since replacing Price on July 31. Two of his wins during that stretch came against the Indians, who now have the best record in the American League. Fister has done his part to keep the Red Sox on track for the postseason.
Wednesday night, though, was a reminder that there’s still some unpredictability with a 33-year-old who began the year in the minors, came to the Red Sox as a waiver claim, and had four losses in his first five appearances with the team.
Six runs were the most Fister had allowed this season, and his ERA jumped from 3.91 to 4.40, putting him in a group with Eduardo Rodriguez (4.19) and Rick Porcello (4.64) as Red Sox starters with 4-plus ERAs, having inconsistent seasons, and currently slotting somewhere behind Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz in the rotation pecking order.
Price is the wild card.
After a three-inning simulated game in the afternoon, Price basically said he’s ready to pitch in a game again.
“If I come in (today) and feel fine, I don’t know what else I can do,” he said.
But the Red Sox aren’t sure there’s time to get him stretched out as a starter – the regular season ends in less than three weeks – and they don’t want to further aggravate his troubled elbow by asking too much, too soon. He could end up in the bullpen.
So, for now, the Red Sox are rounding out their rotation with Porcello, Rodriguez and Fister — a reigning Cy Young winner having a disappointing season, a 24-year-old who just had his best start in two months, and a seasoned veteran who’d been excellent lately until this dud.
Most of Fister’s trouble came in the first inning, which was a combination of hard contract and tough luck. It started with a single and a strikeout, then…