Joe Kelly is just fine. Mostly. His early departure from Monday's game against the Mets was due to a bit of bicep tightness, and importantly is something he's experienced before that usually doesn't linger too long. He doesn't even expect to get an MRI.
So the brief emergency is over. Joe Kelly is not down, and the Red Sox are not searching for a starter to pitch their fifth game of the season right this very minute. We can now resume our state of perpetual fear over the possibility of an injury rather than freaking out about one that might have occured.
But...what if everything wasn't fine? What if Joe Kelly was right now being fit for a prosthetic, his arm having suddenly fallen off the second he stepped into the clubhouse? Who would the Red Sox turn to next?
A look at the Triple-A rotation is at once encouraging and terrifying. The good news: the Red Sox are stacked in Pawtucket, even after having traded away Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, and Anthony Ranaudo. The bad news: none of the pitchers are really the guy you want taking a major league mound. At least not for another few months.
On the one hand, there's Matt Barnes. Barnes is one of the pitchers most likely to contribute to the Red Sox this year in some way, shape, or form, but if the team is not ready to pull the trigger once-and-for-all just yet, his destiny may well be in the bullpen, where he's looked good in limited opportunities.
On the other, there's Henry Owens and Eduardo Rodriguez. They're the two most talented members of the Pawtucket rotation, both top 100 prospects and very often ranked in the top 50 at that. But Owens has thrown all of 38 innings at Triple-A, and Rodriguez only saw time above Double-A in the playoffs. Come June or July, they'll likely be the go-to answers if there's an opening in the rotation. But for right now, they're still a little too unproven to be relied on at the majors.
Honestly, Brian Johnson might be ahead of Owens or Rodriguez on the depth chart. It sounds a little crazy since he's largely trailed behind a bit on his way up the organizational ladder, but he's the sort of advanced low-ceiling, high-floor player who's likely going to benefit the least from additional seasoning and suffer the least from being bumped up ahead of time.
Really, though, the answer is probably Steven Wright, the 30-year-old knuckleballer the Red Sox acquired from Cleveland back in 2012 for--brace yourself if you don't remember--Lars Anderson of all people. This was, of course, well after Anderson's value as a prospect had evaporated. Wright was, at the time, a quadruple-A type of pitcher who, having failed to make the jump as a traditional pitcher, adopted the knuckleball in 2011, and had showed some limited success with it in Double-A Akron.
Since then, Wright has had a decent handful of innings with the major league team, and seen reasonable success at Triple-A, but has never really been in line for a long-term major league roster spot. Now there might be a window, however small, for him to make his way up and actually establish himself if one of the Red Sox' starting pitchers goes down before Owens or Rodriguez prove they're ready in Pawtucket.
That's good news for Wright. Probably not so much for the Red Sox. Obviously the first line of defense in years past haven't exactly set the world on fire, as evidenced by the fact that the team felt the need to completely rebuild their rotation by trading away said first line of defense. Still, there's a reason Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster were once highly-rated prospects, and Wright is not. And there's a reason there are so few knuckleball pitchers. It's an awfully hard pitch to succeed with, and not really something that Boston's defensive infield can help with. Even if Christian Vazquez can catch the thing--he's had some experience with Wright in Pawtucket--the nature of a knuckleballer will likely mitigate a good deal of what Vazquez can bring to the plate in terms of framing and game calling as well.
No, the Red Sox are, despite the strength of Pawtucket's rotation, not particularly well protected against early injuries to their own. Sometimes it just takes the possibility of losing something to make you appreciate what you have.
At least until what you have is a 5.00 ERA in May. Then all bets are off.