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With Joe Kelly demoted, who will be the Red Sox fifth starter?

The Red Sox had a whole lot of depth to start the season, but they're at the end of it now.

Cleveland Indians v Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Let's set things straight before we answer the question the headline poses: Joe Kelly already lost his job once, before he was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket following Wednesday night's disaster start. While Kelly was on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, Steven Wright continued to thrive as a starter. With Eduardo Rodriguez on the way back from the knee injury that gave Wright a chance in the first place, Kelly had been unofficially replaced. Then, Clay Buchholz lost his job, too, and the Sox went with Kelly in his place mostly because Kelly was lined up and available to do so.

That's why there was no hesitation following Wednesday's seven-run, 2-1/3 innings-long implosion, and Kelly was sent to the minors almost immediately following the game's conclusion. Buchholz isn't fixed or ready to return to the rotation, but Kelly starting as a matter of convenience is about the only explanation in place for why the Sox could be both willing to give him another shot and also willing to end it as quickly as they did.

Or at least, this is what we should hope the case is. Because, if it's not this, then the Sox are still hoping Kelly can return as an effective starter in time for the next game in which Boston needs a fifth: June 18, against the Mariners. Let's assume that the Joe Kelly Experiment is over, though: this is a Red Sox team unafraid to take a job away from a veteran, and they've already replaced more longstanding or expensive players than Kelly on their way to first place in the AL East. John Farrell hasn't sounded in love with the idea of Joe Kelly: Starting Pitcher since last summer -- before Kelly's first demotion to Triple-A with the Sox -- and at this point, you have to think even Dave Dombrowski, lover of right-hander power pitchers, has seen enough.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

So, with Kelly out of the picture, relegated to either a future in the bullpen or a role as an injury replacement in the rotation, who can the Red Sox turn to as their fifth starter? It is not as long of a list as it once was.

Part of that is because they already bumped their top option from the depth chart, the aforementioned Steven Wright, into the rotation. Another part is that Brian Johnson, who got a spot start last summer and was expected to be an option again this year now that his elbow is fine, is temporarily inactive as he seeks treatment for his anxiety. Then there is Henry Owens, who couldn't lock down a job in the spring and, like Kelly, has done everything except prove he's ready for a starting gig in the AL East with his 2016 performance.

The Red Sox went more than eight deep with their starters, though, so there is one more option available to them at Triple-A: Roenis Elias. It's a bit ironic, really, that you will hear some Sox fans complaining about the Wade Miley trade given Carson Smith is out for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but if you ask Mariners fans, they'll just tell you Miley is making them miss Elias. Miley has been a disaster for Seattle, posting a 4.95 ERA and team-worst ERA+ of 78 in his 10 starts. Elias is walking too many batters at Triple-A, but he also has 280 innings of being good enough behind him in the majors, too.

Elias isn't an answer if the question you're asking is, "Where can the Red Sox find an above-average starter?" He is, however, the answer to the question of where the Sox can find someone who will give this lineup a chance to win every five nights. Elias' career ERA+ is 92, and he strikes out enough batters (7.7) to offset the free passes (3.5). Those figures aren't sexy, but the Red Sox are scoring almost six runs per game. That's not enough runs for Kelly, apparently, but it should fit Elias and Boston as a whole just fine.

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

He's a perfect depth piece, in that a contending team should look for someone better than Elias out of the gate. The Sox gave Kelly one last shot to stick as a starter over Elias because the free agent market included things like 70 million guaranteed dollars of United States currency for Ian Kennedy. That was fine. The Sox went with Wright over Elias to begin the year because Wright's past was superior to Elias', and Wright was also out of options. Also fine! Now, though, with Owens' control MIA and Johnson seeking treatment, it's up to Elias to fill the hole that Kelly and Buchholz have created.

All Elias has to do is not be actively terrible. He doesn't even have to be good to be a success. The Red Sox already have David Price, Rick Porcello, Steven Wright, and Eduardo Rodriguez in the rotation, so this isn't a 2011-esque situation where the rotation just can't support the lineup no matter how many runs it can score. There is one questionable rotation spot at present, and Elias is a better fit for it than Andrew Miller, Alfredo Aceves, and Kyle Weiland were five years ago. If the Sox keep hitting, and Elias is who he has shown himself to be to this point in his career, Boston will win plenty of his starts.

If Elias doesn't work out, though, or someone else goes down with an injury, then who do the Red Sox still have to turn to? Triple-A is out of options at this point, as Owens needs some serious reconfiguring and sustained success a la Jackie Bradley if he's to make a late-season impact. Johnson's return is unknown, and neither he nor the Red Sox should rush it. William Cuevas isn't fit for much more than a spot start, and Sean O'Sullivan, who already got a brief showing, is in the same boat.

Justin Haley is the only other pitcher in the organization whom the Sox might be able to entrust a start to, and that is -- no offense to Haley, a prospect worth watching if you're a Sox fan -- scraping the bottom of the proverbial barrel. He's still in Double-A, and has a tendency to take some time getting acclimated to a new level. He needs to get a bump to Triple-A soon, probably at the expense of Cuevas' rotation role in Pawtucket, so the Sox can fill in the blanks they've created at the level.

Elias is it. The Red Sox have done well to use their depth to this point, effectively employing Wright at the start of the year, throwing O'Sullivan out there at the right times, and all while managing to avoid imploding despite the disappointing seasons of Buchholz, Kelly, and Owens. If Elias can't cut it for some reason, the Sox are going to have to look outside the organization for help. All things considered -- first place, a ridiculous, league-leading offense, just one rotation spot to fill -- things are going well, though, even at the end of the depth.