The Red Sox rotation isn't in trouble. We don't need to go to those kinds of hyperbolic lengths to describe what's happening to it. There are certainly some unsettled spots in it, though, thanks to Clay Buchholz's uneven start to the year coupled with Eduardo Rodriguez's knee injury and the seemingly never-ending Joe Kelly tryout. There aren't going to be many -- if any -- in-season trade options the Sox can pounce on to upgrade their starting five, either, so they just might have to figure it out with the arms they have.
That process has become much easier in the last 10 days, though, and for one very specific and expensive reason: David Price. The lefty ace has finally started to look the part following the identification of a mechanical flaw that Dustin Pedroia helped find the final puzzle piece for. In his first seven starts, Price had an ERA of 6.75, but in his last two starts and 14 innings, he's given up just three runs total.
This goes well beyond the ERA, obviously, or else you wouldn't be reading something about it right now. Price's command was off to begin the season -- and during last year's playoffs -- and while he often would show Price-like flashes, in between were terrifying stretches where he couldn't hit his spots, looked alarmingly hittable, and gave up hard-hit balls that would change the score in a hurry. In his last two outings, he's looked more like David Price: just 11 hits allowed over those 14 frames, and only one of them a home run. He's limited opponents to a .208/.236/.321 line with a .286 batting average on balls in play in his last two starts, after .278/.339/.432 and .389 prior.
Price also seems to have his old velocity back. While he was down at 92 miles per hour with his fastball at the start of the year, he's been back up to 95 with it over his last two starts, while his sinker is at 93.
Two starts. That's not enough to be fully convinced about anything, but given Price's lengthy track record prior to this mechanical issue, it's easier to believe that he's back to being who he is. For his career, opponents have hit .234/.286/.361 off of him with a .290 BABIP, and he's posted a 3.18 ERA in that time. He's obviously been much better at various intervals -- that's how he ended up with a $217 million deal in the first place -- but even a return to those averages would do wonders for the Sox.
If Price is once again Price, the timing couldn't have been better. Buchholz could very well have a similar return to form -- in 2012, he posted an 8.31 ERA over his first seven starts and 39 innings, before a much more Bucholzian 3.59 mark over his final 150 innings. He also could continue to scuffle, or we could find out he's hurt as Boston did in late-May of 2014 when he still had a 7.02 ERA at the end of the month. As always, Buchholz has the potential to be as good or better as anyone on the staff, but there's always that chance he's their weakest link or not present at all. Getting Price back to where he's supposed to be takes some of the pressure off of Buchholz becoming the high-end version of himself again, or at least helps them shoulder the absence of that guy.
A strong last four months of the year from Buchholz would still be welcome, of course, and would solve even more problems than Price can by himself, but one thing at a time, okay?
Is Vazquez's offense good enough?
Christian Vazquez is obviously a wizard behind the plate, but can the Red Sox stomach his lack of offense?
Joe Kelly is going to slot into the rotation on Saturday in the spot where Sean O'Sullivan briefly dwelled. Now, Boston's lineup is such that it can support Kelly even if he's a below-average arm, but if he's only racking up five innings per outing, then the bullpen -- which might soon be without Carson Smith again due to his forearm injury -- is going to tire out. Again, Price getting back to who he is -- a guy who not only pitches fantastic innings, but pitches tons of them -- will help.
Eduardo Rodriguez's rehab might just be briefly interrupted by a sore knee. Or, maybe he needs some serious downtime to heal the injury suffered in spring training, and Boston is set to be without him until he can be an end-of-year reinforcement. That would be unfortunate, but it's also just one more reason why it's important that Price has seemingly reverted to form when he has. The Sox, with this powerful lineup that leads the league in runs scored (250, with the Cubs at 218 and no one else in the AL over 186) and OPS+ (122, with the Pirates second at 113), can help carry the weaker portions of this rotation. All of that is made easier if, every five days, Boston can count on Price to stop any unfortunate slide before it becomes a real issue.
Price, Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Steven Wright, and Kelly is a rotation that can win some games. If Buchholz can similarly return to form as Price has, then even better: that's a rotation with an ace, a two, and strong mid-rotation components, with Kelly hopefully doing enough to keep anyone from noticing he's still in the rotation. If Rodriguez can come back to replace Kelly or perhaps an injured or still-ineffective Buchholz, then all the better. Well, at least for the first part.
The Red Sox are half-a-game out of first despite spending most of the season playing without the ace they centered their winter around. With Price looking as if he's back to being himself, things should only get better from here, even with the other cracks that are starting to show in the pitching. That's what he was signed for in the first place.