Heading into spring training, there was an understandable air of excitement surrounding the Red Sox rotation. They had a legitimate Big Three that could match just about any other is baseball as well as three other legitimate major-league starters who all have a considerable amount of upside. Since that moment, it’s been one deflating piece of news after another. First, it was Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz getting off to a slow start recovering from last fall’s injuries. Then, it was David Price almost needing Tommy John and still being pushed back in his schedule. Now, on Sunday, we got word that Pomeranz left with triceps tightness. The latest piece of news seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for Boston fans, but if you are panicking just take a deep breath. We’re not quite at the point of needing to freak out about the starting pitching just yet.
Despite the injuries and poor performances, the Red Sox will still have a strong enough starting corps even if both Price and Pomeranz need to miss the first couple turns through the rotation. Obviously, Chris Sale is an enormous reason why. Last year, losing Price would have been devastating, but there’s a new “Staff Ace” in town and he’s looked great this spring. There’s always concern that a new pitcher is going to struggle in his first year at Fenway, because that just seems to be how things go. However, Sale is a truly elite talent and if anyone can break that trend it’ll be him. Even with a new pitch-to-contact philosophy that he utilized last year — and it’s unclear whether or not that’ll carry over into 2017 — he still managed to post a DRA- under 70 for the fourth consecutive year. For context, only seven pitchers with at least 100 innings managed that feat last year. Sale taking the ball every five days is a big relief for a rotation with some turmoil.
Then, of course, there’s Rick Porcello, who is coming off a career year and likely isn’t looking at as much regression as is generally believed. The best part about having Sale and Porcello as the 1-2 punch atop the rotation is the durability factor. Both pitchers have shown an ability to make 30-plus starts a year, and more importantly they’ve both shown an ability to pitch deep into games. Now, we did say the same about Price before camp started, and pitchers are durable until their not, but it’s better to have the track record than not. Assuming they can keep it, it’ll give John Farrell a more well-rested bullpen for the other starters, particularly whoever occupies the fifth spot if they need to reach into their depth.
It’s not just the 1-2 punch that has me excited, though. The guys behind them are looking strong this spring and appear ready to contribute in a big way. It’s easy to forget about Porcello’s big second half and Cy Young victory, but there was a time that Steven Wright was the best pitcher on Boston’s staff last season. The shoulder injury derailed things, but he was legitimately awesome. Knuckleballers are always prone to blowups and Wright is no sure thing, but he’s looked phenomenal this spring and showed the swing-and-miss stuff last season that portends an ability to carry over a significant portion of that success.
Finally, there’s Eduardo Rodriguez, who is someone that I’ve been lower on than most for the majority of his Red Sox career but that I’ve been coming around on since the second half last season. The biggest issue for the young lefty, and it’s something that I’ve mentioned many times in the past, is his refusal to trust all three of his pitches on the same day. He’s always got the fastball, but it seems like every outing he decides that he doesn’t trust his changeup or his slider. When he has all three pitches going, he’s a legitimate mid-rotation arm with upside. When he doesn’t, he’s barely a back-of-the-rotation guy. He’s had all of his pitches this spring, and he even stayed behind from the WBC to keep working with this coaching staff. That’s a quality number four (or number three, depending on how you compare Rodriguez and Wright) starter.
So, even if the Red Sox have to turn to Kyle Kendrick or Henry Owens or Brian Johnson for the first couple turns through the rotation, they still have a strong top-four and what should be a bullpen that is ready to carry a bigger load than usual. Plus, it hopefully won’t be like this for long. Pomeranz, for what it’s worth, says he still believes he’ll be ready for Opening Day. Even if he’s not, it doesn’t appear to be something that’ll keep him out longer than a couple weeks. And while it’s true he’s looked poor this spring, he pitched poorly last spring as well (6.50 ERA) and ended up being incredible for the first half of the season.
As for Price, there is concern that despite the good news he received from Dr. James Andrews earlier in the month his elbow will eventually explode and he’ll need to go under the knife. It’s understandable, given what’s happened to pitchers around the league in recent years. However, it’s not at all inevitable. Look at Masahiro Tanaka, whose injury Yankees fans have been bracing for over the last two or three years. Not only has he stayed healthy, but he’s been one of the best pitchers in the American League. Price was an expected bounce-back candidate before his injury, and right now should only miss a few turns. There will be apprehension from everyone (and there should be) whenever he takes the mound, but we should also expect him to pitch well when healthy.
The injuries that are piling up in the rotation are obviously not ideal. They are also not the end of the world. This team’s pitching staff was supposed to be one of its major strengths this season, and it should remain so. When Price and Pomeranz aren’t pitching, they’ll have a strong top four as well as a bullpen that should be rested enough to provide a big boost when the fifth starter goes. When Price and Pomeranz are healthy, there’s little reason to expect anything less than what we expected before camp started. It’s natural to get nervous and anxious right before the season starts, but the Red Sox look nearly every bit as good as they did just a few weeks ago.