Should we be concerned with Red Sox rotation?

Eric D. Schabell
Contributing Writer

The Spring is far enough along to take a closer look at the progress of the Red Sox, specifically the starting rotation and eventual backup should one go down.

Each of the starters should have completed at least two starts in a Spring Training game, giving us something to evaluate.

We have to keep in mind, as Christopher L. Gasper from the Boston Globe pointed out, "Judging pitchers by spring training stats is like judging cars on how they navigate a speed bump in a parking lot..."

Being that we only have the Spring Training efforts to evaluate, let's take a closer look at what we have to work with for the 2015 starting rotation without a real ace on the staff.

1. Clay Buchholz

He is the 30-year-old ace of the Red Sox and is preparing for his ninth season. He is the leader, like it or not, of a remade Red Sox rotation and the longest-tenured member of the pitching staff. The signs so far in southwest Florida point to Buchholz being ready for a bounce-back season and the role of staff ace.

He is healthy so far this Spring, which does not say much admittedly. His mechanics are sound and his confidence is high, something you like to see in your number one pitcher.

In his three starts this Spring he has pitched 10 innings, has 12 strikeouts against 2 walks while facing 41 hitters with a 1.80 ERA. This sounds like a pretty good line for an ace, but there have been some concerns voiced on the ESPN Baseball Tonight podcast from March 17th.

Buster Olney referenced scouts stating anonymously that Buchholz was only topping out at 87-88mph on his fastball which last year was at 93mph. There is little confirmation of this fact outside of his discussions with scouts watching Buchholz this Spring, but is definitely a concern if he is loosing velocity.

He has been flashing his devastating change-up but leaving fastballs up in the strike zone that have been hit hard. If he loses velocity and can't keep the fastball down he won't fare well.

Ace or no ace, racking up innings from starters is important and Buchholz will need to get through many more than the 3-4 he has been faced with in the Spring.

2. Rick Porcello

The new hire this year coming in from the Tigers, 26-year-old projecting as the number two starter in the Red Sox rotation and heading into his 6th Major League season.

The best thing that can be said about him this Spring is that he has done his job without any hoopla. Porcello has a 2.70 ERA over 10.0 innings with 8 strikeouts against 3 walks while facing 42 hitters.

"That's always a comforting outing when a guy that you're counting on goes out and does his job," Farrell said of Porcello's last start.

Of the entire staff this Spring it seems like Porcello is the least of our worries.

3. Justin Masterson

Another new addition to our starting rotation coming from the Indians via Cardinals, projecting into the number three slot, Masterson will be turning 30 on 22nd of March and is entering his seventh season in the Major Leagues.

He started 4 games this Spring and is having trouble finding late movement on his pitches, earning him a 5.11 ERA over 12.1 innings with only 5 strikeouts and 5 walks issues over 52 batters faced.

In his last start on Friday, Masterson allowed one earned run on four hits over four innings. He struck out one, walked two and came away from the outing without any physical ailments.

One could say it was a positive outing in many respects, including the fact that Masterson, known for his tendencies to induce ground balls, forced 10 of 17 hitters to hit the ball on the ground.

However, Masterson’s fastball velocity still is sitting in the high 80s, which is a far cry from his 2013 All-Star season, when he typically ranged from 90 to 94 mph.

"I'd love it to be at 99 (mph)," Masterson told reporters in Fort Myers after Friday’s start. "In the overall sense, I'm not totally concerned about it. As long as I'm behind the baseball and it feels like it has a little late life, that's more important than, can I come up to 95."

This might be how Masterson sees things, but the word on the street from scouts watching his games is that the movement is not there like it should be.

In is previous outing against the Phillies a scout was quoted as describing his outing as "awful."

When scouts are noticing your lack of movement, combined with velocity problems, it is a serious red flag.

4. Wade Miley

A 28-year-old hire from the Diamondbacks, Miley is entering his 5th season as a Major League pitcher and is projected as the number four starter for the Red Sox.

He also has been knocked around in his starts this Spring, causing some concern about his effectiveness on the hill.

In two games he pitched 6 innings facing 31 hitters, which says enough right there. He as posted a 6.00 ERA, walking 5 while only striking out 2 hitters.

He was never going to be a strikeout king, but with scouts again noting flat stuff and trouble locating pitches with fastballs being left up in the zone there is little chance that he will be effective without some drastic improvements.

In the game where Masterson was slapped around by the Phillies, Miley followed up with about as much effect and was not happy with himself at all. "I didn't locate and I didn't make pitches, especially to lefties, I didn't do a very good job against lefties," he said. "It was a day to forget about. It's better [to have it] now than later and move on. I didn't execute pitches and got to 2 and 0 to a lot of hitters. Can't pitch like that. I did a terrible job. I don’t think I got a lefty out. That can't happen."

That's for sure and Saturday he is scheduled to start, fingers crossed.

5. Joe Kelly

The 26-year-old Kelly is working on his 4th Major League season and is projected to be the Red Sox fifth starter.

Unfortunately he went down fast with bicep soreness and is pushed back at least a week.

While this is nothing that concerns him personally as he has had it happen on previous season starts, it is always a concern that a pitcher is unable to fully prepare through Spring Training.

He started in 3 games, faced 40 batters over 7.1 innings before getting hurt. He struck out 8 and only walked 1, but is sporting a painful 11.05 ERA as he was fooling nobody with his stuff.

With a host of starters like this, that are effective if at the top of their game, but leave much to be desired on an off day one can but wonder what the backup choices are going to be?

6. Eduardo Rodriguez

Touted from the beginning of the Spring as a valid backup for any starters that might go down in the regular season, he was unable to make the rotation being sent down to Triple-A on Friday.

He was a late acquisition from the Orioles, but made a great showing with a 1.17 ERA in three games (7 2/3 innings).

"We don't have the history [with Rodriguez, obtained last July from the Orioles]," said Farrell. "But he's a young, poised extremely talented left-handed pitcher that's got a bright future. There was one outing up in Bradenton where he didn't have his best stuff and yet he didn't last the challenge of the inning affect the body language, the poise, the ability to make pitches. He's an impressive young guy."

Asked where Rodriguez stood developmentally with fellow lefties Henry Owens and Brian Johnson, Farrell was reluctant to compare the three.

"We feel good about the young pitchers we have," said Farrell. "To say who's ahead of the other, you almost have to look at them individually and [ask] what does that individual pitcher have to do? In Eduardo's case, we want to see the breaking ball get tightened up a bit."

"But when you begin to understand the aptitude, the intelligence, the poise...those are all strong points. Not to mention a left-hander who can throw in the mid-90s is a pretty darn good starting point. He's got a bright future ahead of him."

Expect to see him back on the rooster with a call up should a starter go down.

7. Steven Wright

It has already been outlined here that Steven Wright has made a great showing in the early spring games, backing up when the various starting pitchers above have dropped the ball so to speak.

Farrell also appears to be high on Wright as a first line back up to the rotation.

With scouts raising red flags on the front end of this starting rotation there is much to be concerned about. Control, location and velocity are but a few that have been pointed out.

With three weeks until opening day we will be watching each outing very closely, but should we be concerned with this Red Sox starting rotation or are these issues just the normal build up to a Major League season?

Post a comment or via twitter @erics_redsox with your thoughts.

More by Eric D. Schabell