Advertisement

Inside the Red Sox rotation: five pitchers, five issues for 2018

Inside the Red Sox rotation: five pitchers, five issues for 2018
From ESPN - February 13, 2018

The way Dave Dombrowski chooses to see it, things will break the Boston Red Sox's way this season as long as the American League East turns into an arms race.

Forget all about the David Ortiz-sized hole in the middle of the batting order. And never mind Giancarlo Stanton teaming up with Aaron Judge in New York. Dombrowski believes the division will be decided by pitching, and the Red Sox president wouldnt trade his staff for any other.

If you told me right now that our starting rotation and our bullpen was going to stay healthy during the season, Id take our chances right now with our club, Dombrowski says. I think we can compete with anybody because weve got some guys [who] can shut people down when they come out in big games.

Its true Chris Sale was the best pitcher in baseball for three quarters of last season before hitting a wall in August. Likewise, Craig Kimbrel had as dominant a year as youll see from a closer, at least until Game 4 of the division series against the Houston Astros.

But the Red Sox have bullpen questions in front of Kimbrel, chiefly whether Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg can return from injuries to be reliable setup men. And then theres the starting rotation, which had the fourth-best ERA in the league last year (4.06) but nevertheless is filled with uncertainty.

As pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers, Florida, Monday and partake in their first workout Wednesday, heres a look at the biggest issue facing each prospective Red Sox starting pitcher.

Chris Sale: Start to finish

Sale had a 2.37 ERA and gave up 11 home runs in 148 1/3 innings through the end of last July. But over his final 11 regular-season starts, he had a 4.09 ERA and gave up 13 homers in 66 innings. Then, in Game 1 against the Astros, he allowed seven runs on three homers in five innings.

Quite simply, Sale hit a wall. Its happened before, too. His career ERA before the All-Star break (2.74) is half a run lower than after the break (3.28), while his home-run rate jumps from 0.78 per nine innings to 1.11. And in the final month of the season, those numbers skyrocket to 3.78 and 1.51.

But at least Sale is aware of the problem and intent on fixing it. He wont spill the beans about changes hes making with new pitching coach Dana LeVangie, but suggested a more gradual build-up of his throwing program. After striking out 308 batters last season, the most by an AL pitcher since Pedro Martinez in 1999, Sale also hinted at being more economical.

I dont think I need to dial it back. I think I just need to eliminate waste pitches, Sale said recently. Id love to be able to get to the sixth inning on a very regular basis with 80-85 pitches. Easier said than done, and it looks good on paper, but those are kind of the things weve been talking about.

David Price: Head games

Price missed the first two months and another eight weeks last season with an elbow injury, the specificity of which was never revealed. Regardless, the leftys head was every bit as big a problem as his arm.

From his feud with local media to needlessly deriding Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley on the team plane over an innocuous comment during a television broadcast, Price raised a whole new set of questions about his ability to thrive amid the deafening noise that exists in the sports-obsessed fishbowl known as Boston.

Rick Porcello: Identity crisis

Drew Pomeranz: Dont go changin'

Eduardo Rodriguez: Finding the ceiling

Advertisement

Continue reading at ESPN »