Of all the surprising things about this first month of baseball for the Red Sox, the team’s struggles on the mound could be the most startling of all.

The Red Sox took the field in Toronto Monday night with an ERA of 4.70. The starters’ ERA was even higher, coming in at 5.06. Both numbers are third worst in the American League.

That’s why Tim Wakefield’s start was so impressive on Sunday. Wakefield went 62/3 innings against Baltimore, leaving to a standing ovation with only one Orioles run on the scoreboard.

It was a rare feat for the 2010 Red Sox: a starting pitcher leaving with a job well done and the game in control.

Wakefield’s reward for pitching a gem? A demotion to the bullpen.

That decision had been made well before Wakefield made the 425th start of his career.

He’ll be moving to the bullpen to make room for Daisuke Matsuzaka, who will make his first start of the season this weekend in Baltimore.

In baseball, as in life, a good effort isn’t always enough to change the course of history.

Wakefield pitched Sunday like a guy trying to save his job, turning in his second quality start (six or more innings, giving up three or fewer runs) of the season. Not bad for a starting rotation that has recorded only eight quality starts.

Wakefield deserved better. He left with a three-run lead, but the bullpen couldn’t hold it. Hideki Okajima gave it up, and Wakefield remained stuck on 175 wins with the Sox. With 17 more he would tie Cy Young and Roger Clemens for the most in franchise history.

It’ll be tough getting those wins out of the bullpen. Wakefield knows that, but he knows how rare it is for five pitchers to stay healthy over the course of a season.

He’ll do what’s asked and wait his turn. He was clearly unhappy when he spoke to the media after his start.

When asked about his thoughts concerning the move to the bullpen, Wakefield replied with a curt “I don’t have any.” Time and again, he refused to discuss the move.

Wakefield has been one of the most accessible members of this team for well over a decade. It’s unusual for him to be guarded with the media, but he knows enough to keep his emotions close to the vest. He’ll go to the bullpen, bide his time and pitch when asked.

It’s not like he hasn’t done this before. Wakefield has appeared as a reliever in 137 games, even serving as the Red Sox closer.

But he hasn’t pitched out of the bullpen since 2004 and with health issues over the past few years, who knows how he will fare relieving now?

As Wakefield reached the dugout Sunday, the first player to greet him was David Ortiz. Big Papi knows what it’s like to face his baseball mortality in the face.

On many nights, Wakefield will sit in the dugout with catcher Jason Varitek. The two have been teammates for 14 seasons, pillars of a team that has won two world championships in that span.

Yet both must now deal with being asked to do less. Varitek has responded well: His four home runs in limited duty over the first 19 games of the season was second best on the team.

How will Wakefield respond to this? Only time will tell.

For now, the Red Sox have too much money invested in Matsuzaka and see too much potential in Clay Buchholz to do anything else.

 

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.