There have been plenty of promising moments in these few Spring Training games. Andrew Benintendi is hitting well, as is Jackie Bradley Jr., who has already broken a bat hitting a mammoth home run. Dodgers trade pieces Jeter Downs and Connor Wong are doing well, as well, and several of their new minor league teammates like Josh Ockimey and Jarren Duran are separating themselves from the pack.
Going into Spring Training, expectations were at subterranean depths after last season and the madness of the offseason, but the Red Sox are doing much better than expected. It’s comforting that for now, the limbo state of Spring Train can act as a sort of soothing balm after the burn of the offseason.
Nevertheless, come regular season, the Red Sox will be, in the words of Hamilton, “outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, out-planned.”
Come regular season, pitching will be a problem. And more than that, the base fact is that the Red Sox do not have enough pitching. Regardless of how well their current pitching performs, they do not have enough of a backup plan in place.
In order to be able to have the ‘Quality over Quantity’ argument, there must be quantity. The Red Sox currently have a four-man starting rotation. And from a health standpoint, those four men are not sure things, so in addition to needing a fifth starter, they also need viable substitution options. Viable, meaning not the revolving door of Triple-A arms that was the Red Sox’ go-to move last year.
Chris Sale arrived Spring Training recovering from pneumonia. As such, he’s getting off to a slow start, which is surely even more frustrating for him than anyone else. He threw batting practice on Sunday, and is expected to throw a live BP or simulated game later this week, and he’s hopeful that he will be ready by Opening Day on March 26. He’s also been wearing a high-tech MotusTHROW compression sleeve on his throwing arm, because, lest fans forget, he’s spent large portions of the last two seasons on the Injured List. According to The Athletic, the garment is “a tight-fitting piece of fabric equipped with sensors that transmit biomechanical information to the Red Sox training staff and coaches, all with the intent of figuring out how to keep their ace healthy.” Sale received a platelet-rich plasma injection last August, and began throwing again in December. His health and effectiveness on the mound are undoubtedly a key linchpin that will determine the potential success or failure of their season.
Eduardo Rodriguez is also off to a slower start, due to injuring himself early in Spring Training. The Red Sox will need him to match or exceed his exemplary 2019 performance: he finished the season with a career-best 3.81 ERA over 34 starts. For the first time in his 5-year Major League career, he threw over 200 innings and struck out over 200 batters. He finished tied for 6th in the AL Cy Young voting. Between the absurdly large amount of run support he received from the lineup and his emergence as a dominant arm, ERod was one of the only factors the Red Sox could count on last year, a port in the storm.
Nathan Eovaldi made his Spring Training debut against the Twins on Monday, going two innings, allowing two hits, and striking out four. If he can manage to stay healthy and find his form again, then the Red Sox have Nasty Nate back, and that contract extension looks a lot better. The alternative is too painful to mention.
Nate’s new rotation-mate Martin Pérez made his Red Sox debut today, a 1-2-3 inning in which he got the first two Pirates batters to ground out, and struck out the third. He only pitched two innings overall, but struck out three batters, allowed a hit, a walk, and a run. It was short first impression, but it inspires hope that the Red Sox have a healthy arm who can shut down the opposition. The Pirates do have the lowest payroll in MLB, well under $50 million, but a win is a win, and the Red Sox took the rain-shortened game 6-3.
If he stays healthy, Hector Velazquez can return to the role he’s played for his team in the past: that of a flexible pitcher who can make short starts as well as be a long reliever or late-game arm. He pitched the 4th and 5th innings of Eovaldi’s debut, striking out two batters, not allowing a single hit or walk. When he’s effective, he’s a strong asset to the pitching staff, because he’s able to do it all. As with the rest of his fellow arms, we just have to hope for the best.
Spring Training games are not even a week old, and the Red Sox pitching staff is performing better than expected. But barring the plot twist in which Mike Shawaryn suddenly becomes Nolan Ryan, and Colten Brewer manages to lower his ERA below 4, the Red Sox still need to look outside their system for additional arms. There aren’t many options available at this point in the year, but once the regular season is underway, it’s likely the Red Sox will make a move before the trade deadline. They will probably have to. Last year was an exercise in what happens when a team does not have a contingency plan. After everything else that has transpired this offseason, the Red Sox cannot afford to make the same mistake twice.
Photo: AP Photo/John Bazemore