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Boston without an ace in hole; No true No. 1 in the rotation.

If the Red Sox are counting on Clay Buchholz to be the ace of their pitching staff, Curt Schilling believes they're fooling themselves.

Schilling has watched Buchholz pitch as a Red Sox teammate and an ESPN broadcaster and as far as he's concerned, Buchholz is no ace.

"I don't think he wants to be one,'' Schilling told me during a conference call this week. "I think there's a level of commitment mentally and physically you have to have and you have to have a little bit of a dark side, I think, in the sense that losing has to hurt so bad that you do whatever you can do to make sure that it never happens again. I've never felt like that was in place.''

Schilling believes Buchholz has the stuff, but not the makeup.

"He's unbelievably talented obviously physically,'' Schilling said, "but there's another level to the game and I think that the reason he's been inconsistent -- you know, Cy Young potential and numbers one year to what the hell happened next year -- is I think it's upstairs. I think it's all above his shoulders.''

With former ace Jon Lester gone, Buchholz will start opening day against the Phillies on Monday. Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Justin Masterson and Joe Kelly, none of whom was with the team for last year's opener, round out the rotation.

"There are five starters,'' Schilling said, "good enough to get them from April to September I think as long as they stay healthy. Yes, they're there now, but I'd say to you, 'If you had a win-or-go-home game today, who do you give hand the ball to on that staff?'

"Any time you have to pause to answer that question,'' Schilling continued, "your team doesn't have a legit No. 1.''

Schilling thinks Kelly has the stuff to become an ace, but he may not pitch until mid-April because of tightness in his right biceps. ESPN's John Kruk places Porcello in the same category as every other starter in the rotation.

"He's a legitimate No. 3 guy, possibly a 2,'' Kruk said. "They don't really have a No. 1.''

Nevertheless, Kruk liked what he saw of Porcello with the Tigers last season.

"I love the fact that he turned the corner last year,'' he said. "His changeup was a lot better, his secondary pitches were better. ... A guy who keeps the ball down in the strike zone, a sinker ball pitcher, has a better chance in Fenway.''

Don Orsillo, entering his 25th season as a baseball broadcaster and his 15th on NESN calling the Sox, rated Porcello as the most impressive Sox starter in spring training and believes he learned a lot from Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander in Detroit.

"Because of those guys he was kind of buried in the rotation a little bit,'' Orsillo said, "but listening to him he's learned a lot from those guys about how to go about your business and really know what to do to get ready for each start.''

If the Sox are in contention at the trading deadline, Schilling and Kruk believe they'll try to acquire Cole Hamels from the Phillies or Johnny Cueto from the Reds to top their rotation.

Orsillo didn't have to think long when he asked which Sox player has impressed him the most this spring. The answer was obvious: Mookie Betts, who is hitting well over .400 and making diving catches in center field.

"There's confidence there that we maybe didn't see last year,'' Orsillo said. "You've got to remember that this guy started last year at Double A with Portland as a second baseman.''

Betts is expected to bat leadoff and start in center.

"He said he's more comfortable in center field than he was at second base,'' Orsillo said.

While newly acquired sluggers Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval drew a lot of attention this spring, Mike Napoli has put together a fine spring, hitting over .400 with four home runs, after undergoing major surgery for sleep apnea in November. Doctors broke his upper and lower jaws to move them into their proper places so he could breathe and sleep at night. Orsillo hosted a January event where Napoli was honored.

"He was probably about 25 pounds lighter than he is now,'' Orsillo said, "and his jaw was wired shut still, and he was talking about only being able to have soup and purees. I was thinking to myself, 'There's no way this guy is going to be ready for spring training,' and he came in and he said the weight came back quickly and he's had a great spring.''

Orsillo said Napoli had so much trouble sleeping he was considering retiring before undergoing surgery.

So the Sox will go from worst to first to worst to where?

"It could be first,'' Orsillo said. "The division, to me, is not as good as it's been in the past, and I think anybody can win the division, which is different from years past.''

The Giants won the World Series last year a 88-74 regular season to tie for the eighth-best record in the majors and entered the playoffs as a wild card team.

But they had an ace in Madison Bumgarner.

Contact Bill Doyle


Follow him on Twitter @BillDoyle15.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 3, 2015
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