Season Preview: Starting Pitchers

Bryan Mauro- Contributing Writer (@threecolorbeard)

Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Now that spring training is over and the Red Sox roster is set, we can examine its strengths and weaknesses. There are a lot of new faces on the roster this year. Depth should not be a problem on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. The pitching, on the other hand, could be a different story.

Coming into spring training, the Red Sox starting pitching was supposed to be a strength that would not only help this team get over the hump, but also back to the World Series. Then the injuries came, and what once looked like a solid rotation with a few good depth options, now looks like a rotation that everyone in the front office is hoping doesn’t get hurt.

On Monday, against the Pirates, Rick Porcello got the honor of starting on opening day. It’s tough to argue that he didn’t deserve the spot. He did win the Cy Young last year and was flat out dominant doing it. Wednesday will belong to Chris Sale, the Red Sox prized off season acquisition. Chris Sale has long been the best pitcher in the American League, and if spring training is any indication of how this year will go, it will be fun to watch him pitch. Thursday belongs to Eddy Rodriguez, the pitcher who had the most to prove this spring training. His career has been marked by extremely good runs, but also extremely bad ones. When he first got the call two years ago, he was tipping his pitches, which led to some inflated numbers. That problem appears to be past him now. If the Red Sox can get the Eddy that pitched at the end of last year, the Eddy who has the potential to throw a no hitter, that would be a huge bonus.

On Friday, the Red Sox travel to Detroit, and that series should round out the rotation with knuckleballer Steven Wright. Steven was great last year, until a freak injury sliding back into the bases ended his season. His knuckleball should be dancing early on to keep the Tigers hitters off balance. Saturday will be Rick Porcello’s second turn through the rotation, as they are trying to keep him on 5 days rest. Sunday will be Drew Pomeranz who, along with Wright, got a late start into spring training. And, even though the Red Sox just placed him on the DL, it’s only for 10 days, and I believe the purpose was so he could go to the minors and get in one “rehab” before this start.

Pat Sullivan/AP
The Red Sox have one huge name missing from this early season rotation and that is David Price, who is still recovering from an early spring elbow strain. He is throwing currently, but has yet to throw off the mound. I would imagine the plan is to get David three or four starts in the minors and then activate him once the calendar strikes May. This is unchartered territory for both Boston and David Price, as this is the first time Price has ever spent any time on the DL. The loss of Price takes this rotation from elite to pretty good.

The rotation still has some strengths, with all five starters bringing something different to the table. Porcello is a guy who gets a ton of ground balls, but can still strike you out. He lives in the bottom of the zone and his pitches are very hard to elevate. He is pitching with confidence and judging by his spring training, he is still taking the exact same approach and attacking each hitter like he did last year. He should have continued success.

Chris Sale left handed power pitcher. He throws in the upper 90s, has a wipe out slider, and is just not a fun at bat for opposing hitters. I used to dread when the Red Sox would face Chris Sale, because he dominates a game. He is different from Porcello because he relies more on his sweeping breaking balls, and is trying to strike you out. He doesn’t allow many baserunners. Neither pitcher walks a lot of guys.

Eddy Rodriguez is also a lefty, but different than Sale and Porcello because he is more of a location and finesse pitcher. Eddy doesn’t have the velocity to hit a lot of the plate like Porcello and Sale can and still get away with it. Eddy also has a devastating change-up that he will use to strike guys out. Eddy relies on soft contact and strikeouts to get guys out. He does sometimes give up a huge inning and can walk a few guys because of his want to pitch to the corners.

As a knuckleballer, Steven Wright is different than 98% of the starting pitchers in the league. If the knuckleball is dancing, he is going to give up some wild pitches and walk guys; that is what knuckleballers do. Knuckleballers also tend to give up some homeruns, as they don’t throw very hard. The knuckleball is hard to grip and hard to throw when it is hot and humid out, so in the summer time you could see Wright’s numbers spike. He pitched through it for most of the year last year, and I hope he can pitch to a mid 2 ERA like he did last year.
Nancy Lane

Drew Pomeranz is the pitcher that will no longer be in the rotation once David Price comes back. Pomeranz is a lefty who relies on a knuckle-curve to get guys out. He is fly ball pitcher, but for the most part, it is hard for hitters to pull the ball off him, due to his arm angle. He has had some arm problems since he was acquired from the Padres, but hopefully it is nothing more than soreness. Personally, I would like to see how he does with a full year in this rotation.

The weaknesses of this staff are simple: no depth, outside of journeyman Kyle Kendrick, who pitched really well this spring. The Sox do not have one starter who has had much success at the major league level. Henry Owens has been given every opportunity to make the team, and at every opportunity he shows he cannot throw strikes, getting himself into trouble by walking guys. This spring was no different. Brian Johnson has shown a little better, but he still has his flaws and cannot consistently get major league hitters out. He is hoping that David Price comes back healthy and the Red Sox can use Drew Pomeranz and Kyle Kendrick as the depth options. Otherwise, the Red Sox may be trading some more key prospects for a starter later on in the year.

This rotation should still be fine, and with the potential of the Red Sox offense they just need keep Boston in games. Chris Sale, Porcello, and Price will be the horses and I hope we get to see what the three of them can do in a rotation together.