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Sea Dogs starting pitchers look forward to six-man rotation

Apr. 4—As the top pitching prospect in the Boston Red Sox farm system, Wikelman Gonzalez knows anything that helps him develop a routine and protect his strong right arm is a good thing. In that regard, the 22-year old from Maracay, Venezuela, is ready to adapt to the organization's new approach to starting pitching.

This season, Boston's starters in Double-A Portland, High-A Greenville and Low-A Salem will pitch in a six-man rotation rather than the traditional five-man setup. Taking the mound once a week will allow for more rest between starts and goal-intensive side work on off days.

"I think it's a great idea. It's long overdue, in my opinion," Portland Manager Chad Epperson said of the move to a six-man rotation. "Most of the major league starters, you look at the averages, they're going on six days, with the days off and everything else... It gives these guys an extra day to just regroup. Especially as the season goes on, you talk about July, and these guys have made 12, 13 starts. It just gives them that extra day's rest."

Gonzalez, the No. 7 prospect in the Red Sox system according to MLB.com, is set to begin the season in Portland after a midseason promotion from Greenville last season.

"Stay with the same routine. Ultimately if it's six-man or five-man, I've got to do whatever I've got to do to be ready when it's my day," Gonzalez said through interpreter Justin Frometa, a development coach with the Sea Dogs. "Take those off days to recover and prepare for the next one."

The Sea Dogs are scheduled to open the season at Hadlock Field at 6 p.m. Friday, but the nor'easter that hit Maine this weekend could impact this weekend's series against the Hartford Yard Goats. As of Thursday afternoon, Friday's game had not been postponed, nor had games scheduled for Saturday and Sunday afternoon. The Sea Dogs are on the road next week in Reading, Pennsylvania, before beginning a series at Hadlock against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats on April 16.

Isaac Coffey made 11 starts with Greenville and 11 with Portland last season, and sees the move to a six-man rotation as another way the Red Sox are looking to prevent injuries.

"I think it's just a way the Red Sox are protecting us, keeping us healthy," Coffey said. "It's obviously not as many innings, but if that's the way they want to do it and they want to protect us, I'm OK with it."

Along with Gonzalez and Coffey, Portland starting pitchers Angel Bastardo, Hunter Dobbins and Wyatt Olds each started games for the Sea Dogs last season.

Portland's schedule lends itself perfectly to a six-man starting rotation.

The Sea Dogs have just one Monday game, July 1 at home against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. A majority of the season plays out in six-game series that run Tuesday through Sunday. Using a five-man rotation, the pitcher who started the series opener Tuesday faced the same opponent again in Sunday's finale. Now, each starting pitcher will face an opponent once in a series. Epperson said his hitters typically felt more comfortable when seeing a starter the second time in a series, and guessed opponents felt the same.

"Look, stuff is stuff. It's not like you're throwing 94 on Tuesday and all of a sudden throwing 99 on Sunday, right? I think being able to hit one team one time, then whatever amount of time it is until we see them again, it's a little different," Epperson said.

Epperson said he's not sure yet if the extra day will mean Sea Dogs starters will be more likely to pitch longer in games as the season goes on.

"You've got six chances to protect your bullpen, or you've got six chances to kind of go, 'oh no, we don't have enough bullpen.' With the arms we've got, a lot of them are coming back and got a taste (of Double-A)," Epperson said. "I think they're all real happy about it. I think they're excited about having the extra day. With what's asked of these guys these days, an extra day (of rest) is great for them."

As the season progresses, Coffey hopes having the extra day means Epperson and pitching coach Sean Isaac will be more likely to leave him in a game a little longer to try to work out of any jams.

"That's definitely a possibility. There's pitch count limits, especially at the beginning of the year. As we go out later in the year, there's going to be a little bit more of a leash. Go out and see what you can do," Coffey said.

Still, Coffey said knowing he has an extra day before the next start won't necessarily change the amount of effort he puts into each start.

"I think it's more of a preparation deal. You get an extra day to prepare for your start each week, then that will make you feel good when you're out on the mound," Coffey said. "There's never a time when you're out there (thinking) 'I'm not going to give this one full intent.'"