After Wednesday’s disappointing and frustrating loss in Milwaukee, the Red Sox announced that they were sending Kyle Kendrick back down to Pawtucket and bringing Robbie Ross back up from the minors. This doesn’t come as a huge surprise, as Kendrick’s track record never suggested he was going to give Boston much out of the rotation. He got two chances to prove that his track record was firmly in the past and he was a changed pitcher. Those chances did not prove that, to say the least.
Now, the Red Sox are left with just four starters on their roster and 13 relievers. This is, of course, temporary, but they can keep the roster with this equilibrium for a little over a week. Because of an upcoming off-day on Monday, the Red Sox will be able to keep their four current starting pitchers on normal rest without using a fifth starter until May 20.
That is good news, particularly with David Price getting ready to start his rehab assignment. Unfortunately, May 20 is still too early for Price to come back. Even if he only needs two rehab starts, the earliest the southpaw would be able to return to the majors would be May 24. That is also, of course, a best-case scenario. As such, the Red Sox will need at least one spot start from someone not currently on the active roster, and given the nature of longer-term pitching injuries like Price’s, they may require more. Let’s look at some of the options to make that start or starts.
This is probably the most obvious candidate. Johnson has already been called upon for one major-league start this season, and while he didn’t blow anyone away the lefty was fine. In five innings of work on the road against the Blue Jays, Johnson allowed four runs on seven hits and three walks with six strikeouts. That, of course, is not ideal, but it was better than one has come to expect from Kendrick.
Johnson was sent back down to Pawtucket after that start and has performed well against Triple-A competition. He’s made three starts since that April 18 outing in Toronto and has pitched to a 3.15 ERA in 20 innings of work with 11 strikeouts. He does also have 10 walks in that time, although that was skewed by a five inning outing with four walks and two strikeouts. In his last two outings, he’s thrown 15 innings with nine strikeouts and four walks with a 2.40 ERA. It was enough to earn him Player of the Week honors.
Johnson is never going to be the most exciting pitcher, but he’s shown enough to believe he can keep the offense in the game more often than not. That’s more than they’ve gotten from this rotation spot the last two times out when Kendrick had rough first innings in both starts. Johnson had something to prove this year after a tumultuous 2016 that included poor performance and personal issues to overcome off the field. Even if he’s never a consistent mid-rotation arm, he’s starting to earn his chance to prove he can be a back-end starter, and this seems to be the time to give him that chance.
If one is looking for upside amongst their depth starting options, Owens is the place to look. Although it seems like he’s been on the cusp of the majors for a decade, the lefty is still only 24 years old and still has a decent amount of potential. Of course, with that potential there is also some considerable downside. Despite all his experience in the minors, he still has not been able to harness his control to an acceptable degree.
Owens’ numbers in Pawtucket look solid, particularly his 2.27 ERA, but he is still walking batters and can’t make it deep into games. While his 28 percent strikeout rate is quite impressive, his 16 percent walk rate is...much less so. He also has yet to make it through more than six innings this season, and he’s only made it that in two of his six starts. That is true despite throwing at least 95 pitches in each outing.
To be fair to Owens, he is trying to correct these issues. Early in the year, he made an adjustment to his delivery to harness his control, but it hasn’t worked out yet. He has at least four free passes in half of his outings this year. There is an outside chance his solid stuff could get him through a major-league start or two, depending on the opponent, but the Red Sox are better off waiting for his control to improve before promoting him.
If there is one pitcher in Pawtucket who is gaining steam in this discussion, Velazquez is the guy. The former Mexican League star has been dominant over his last three starts, failing to allow a run in 17 1⁄3 innings of work. He also has 11 strikeouts and just three walks in this stretch while retiring 27 in a row between two outings. You can see a scouting report on the righty from Sox Prospects’ Ian Cundall here.
The bad news is that it’s unlikely for Velazquez to be in the majors just yet. A late signing for the Red Sox, he never really had an offseason this winter. As such, the organization is looking to take it easy on the righty. He’s only made four starts on the season despite never hitting the disabled list or being hurt. It’s just a matter of limiting his workload. If the team was pressed to call him up to the majors I’m sure they would, but since they have other options I’d imagine they’d like to continue to manage the workload so he could potentially be available in the second half.
If Price’s first two rehab outings go well and the Red Sox decide they can count on the lefty for that May 24 start, it’s possible they’ll forgo all of their Triple-A options and just go with a bullpen game. This is never an ideal strategy, but it could make sense if the other options aren’t trustworthy for one reason or another. This would likely involve guys like Ben Taylor, Heath Hembree and Robbie Ross throwing multiple innings and would result in some roster shakeup after the outing.
lol. Just kidding.
If I had to make a guess right now, I’d say Johnson will get the start(s), with Owens having an outside shot if he can get his walks down over his next couple outings. It is also worth noting that the Red Sox would have to alter either one’s schedule to get them on track to start on May 20, but that really isn’t too much to ask for. Don’t sleep on the possibility of a bullpen game if it’s just a one-start deal, either.
Who should start in place of Kyle Kendrick?
This poll is closed
Other (explain in comments)