Last year the Red Sox lead the American League in ERA, WHIP, BAA and Shut Outs. This year they'll be without their number three starter for at least the first half of the season, but that hasn't taken away from the excitement surrounding the team's pitching staff. Schilling's injury pales in comparison to the disappointments of last year's pitching staff.
Not only did Schilling miss a quarter of the season last year, but Matsuzaka had some rookie growing pains, Jon Lester missed most of the season because he was still weak from chemotherapy, and Tim Wakefield and Clay Buchholz had to be shut down at the end of the year. There was also Hideki Okajima's fatigue, having gone from pitching 54 innings in 2006, to pitching 69 innings last year.
But Hideki Okajima has an answer for his fatigue this year. Via Extra Bases comes the news that Okajima's going to tone down his off the field throwing. The rigorous throwing schedules of Japanese pitchers probably aren't very conducive to a lengthy major league season. Okajima's also been doing some "secret" tampering with his pitches to battle an familiarity hitters may begin to have with him.
Jon Lester is also in camp. As one of the first Red Sox players to arrive this year, he's got to be excited about finally being healthy again. Lester got off to a fast start to his major league career, going 5-0 with a 2.38 ERA over his first eight starts. But he would soon fatigue as symptoms of his cancer. And what was a bright, promising career had to be put on hold for a year. Lester's only 24 though, so he's got plenty of years left on his arm.
Josh Beckett, and Manny Delcarmen are also both in camp, coming off stellar years. Although he wasn't used in as many important spots, Delcarmen's success last year rivaled that of Okajima. His ERA+ was actually better than Okajima's. Delcarmen was good for 11 holds (3rd most on the team) and a save to go with his 1.02 WHIP.
And while Daisuke may have struggled at times last year, his season was overall very solid for a rookie. In fact, he was the first rookie pitcher to record 200 strikeouts since Kerry Wood in 1998. And that was in the National League. You'd have to go back to 1984 to find the last American League rookie who accomplished that feat.
If Matsuzaka replicated his 2007 season he'll be a solid number three starter in the American League East. But I think most are excited about the likelihood of bigger and better things from the Japanese wunderkind.