It didn’t take too long for some bad news to come out of Red Sox camp this year, as Eduardo Rodriguez tweaked his knee shortly after spring training began. At the time, it appeared to be a minor setback, one that would cause him to miss a week or so of action, but not affect any regular season games. Every day since the injury occurred, however, it seems like there’s been more bad news. The swelling has not gone down, and we’re now at the point where it’s more likely than not that he’ll miss the start of the season.
Now, let’s make it clear from the get-go. This is bad news. The Red Sox and Rodriguez would be better off if he was healthy and on track for a normal spring. An argument could be made that the 23 year old has the highest ceiling in the rotation behind David Price, and he is inarguably an important piece on this roster. You never want an injury to occur, especially not to a young player of his caliber and especially not on that appears to just nag and nag and nag. With all of that being said, there are some silver linings to be found within this whole situation if you look hard enough.
First and foremost, the Red Sox were going to have to limit Rodriguez’s workload at some point in 2016. He’s still very young, and is coming off a career-high 170 innings last season. The team has said earlier in the offseason that they’d like to limit his pitch count, although there doesn’t appear to have been a specific limit mentioned on his innings. Still, one would have to imagine they don’t want him pushing 200 innings in his first major-league season. Missing the first couple of starts of the regular season — he may not even miss that much time — would be an easy way to start that process. Given the choice, I think most would rather him miss starts in April than in August.
Maybe more importantly, it will give the team an early chance to get a real look at their pitching depth. Spring training can be useful for this type of thing, as they can see what pitchers’ stuff looks like or how their mechanics are working. There’s nothing like seeing them against an offense trying to win, though, and you just won’t see that in March. They are going to need their pitching depth this year, and the earlier they know who’s the guy to turn to, the better. There’s a pretty good chance Clay Buchholz will hit the DL at some point for an extended stint, and there’s at least a chance that Joe Kelly will need to be replaced. Not to mention the chance of something happening to Price or Porcello. That stuff could happen later in the year when the team is in the middle of the pennant race, and they’d obviously be better off knowing which member of Pawtucket’s rotation is the best pitcher to call up.
The decision, of course, becomes who to give that chance to. They could give it to Henry Owens, who likely has the most overall talent of the group. However, he’s had some real control issues in his career. Still, giving him a chance to prove that he’s righted that ship, at least to an extent, would be huge later in the year. A similar argument could be made for Elias, who has more major league experience. He has much more major-league experience, however, so it may not be as imperative to get a long look at him.
Then, there’s Steven Wright. Being out of options, it was long assumed that he could make the roster on Opening Day regardless of any injuries. With an injury having occurred, it gives them more options. There’s a chance they could turn to Wright in the case that Rodriguez only misses a spot or two, and add another arm to the bullpen. Whether than means Edwin Escobar — also out of options — or higher potential arms like Matt Barnes or Heath Hembree, moving Wright to the rotation for a short stint could give the Red Sox a look at some relievers who could help down the stretch.
As I said earlier, there’s no denying that this is clearly a bad thing. It’s really important for the Red Sox to get off to a strong start this year, due to both public perception and the fact that they’re playing in a league with an unprecedented amount of parity. At the same time, Rodriguez being hurt right now isn’t the worst thing in the world, assuming it’s not serious. It helps the team limit his workload early in the year, which is preferable to it happening during a stretch run. It also gives them a chance to see their pitching depth — whether in the rotation or the bullpen — against real competition. It’s not the way anyone wanted the year to start, but there are at least some silver linings to a minor Eduardo Rodriguez injury.