Sox Mound Decisions
One of the biggest questions heading into the 2022 regular season for the Red Sox is what their pitching is going to look like. Last year, Boston's pitching staff was relatively in the middle of the pack when it came to ERA. The Red Sox rotation is nothing but mediocre, just like it was last season. Nothing jumps off the page when analyzing Boston's pitching depth, and Chaim Bloom hopes the Sox offense will put on the backpack once again, and carry this team to new heights.
There are not many holes in the field and in the lineup, but there are a few when it comes to Boston's pitching. Chris Sale suffered a rib cage injury in late February and was shut down from throwing for more than a month. It was reported by Sale himself that he is feeling better, and hopes to be throwing on the mound as soon as next week. Sale's absence no matter how long creates a gap in the rotation that Cora needs to try to fill with what he has at his disposal. Last season, Boston had 10 different players step on the hill to start the game. With three of those guys gone, the Sox may need to lean into younger pitchers like Tanner Houck, Connor Seabold, or Kutter Crawford to play a much bigger role than they are used to.
Cora has probably his biggest decision to make when it comes to Garrett Whitlock who was without a doubt Boston's best pitcher last season. He had the best ERA on the team for pitchers that featured in 15 or more games in the regular season. There are rumors that Cora might use newly acquired Rich Hill, and Whitlock as a duo. Using two solid relievers on top of one another that have the ability to pitch more than two innings might not be a bad idea. Whitlock proved that he can be a starter in the league in 2021, but there are questions about whether or not to take him out of the bullpen. Removing him from the bullpen makes the Boston relieving core a lot weaker, and when things are not going their way in the middle of a game, Whitlock was always the man to turn the tides.
Going into opening day, Cora virtually confirmed that Nathan Eovaldi, Nick Pivetta, and Tanner Houck will have a spot in the rotation. Losing Eduardo Rodríguez was almost inevitable with the money that he was asking for, but for the new rotation to work, unfamiliar starters will have to hold down the fort before Sale gets back into the action. Rodríguez was a solid player for Boston last season, even though he was extremely lucky, notching a .363 BABIP. He was a crafty lefty with a lethal changeup that was up and down for most of the season but always pitched a good game when the team needed it the most. Losing a piece like E-Rod, and replacing him with the guys Bloom did begs the question if the Red Sox have enough depth to handle Chris Sale's loss.
During spring training last week, Alex Cora spoke about the pitching situation, stating, "We’re in a good spot and we’re deep enough...Obviously, we took a hit with Chris. But we’ll be patient. And whenever he’s ready, he’s ready. We had other plans if Chris was in the rotation, but being able to have capable guys to get 15 outs, and 18 outs is great. So far, everybody looks good, healthy."
Throwing multiple bullpen arms like James Paxton, Michael Wacha, or even Josh Taylor on the mound could work to supplement what a starter would give in a game. It all will ultimately come down to Eovaldi being able to duplicate what he did in the previous season. The former All-Star finished fourth in the Cy Young voting in 2021. He will be a free agent at the end of the 2022 season, so there is more of an incentive to perform and earn the biggest contract of his career at the age of 32.
The lack of depth is not something that Cora is worried about, but with only two proven starters healthy and ready to go for opening day, he may have to rethink that. Some individuals will be put into spots in games that they just have not gone through before. For players like Houck and Whitlock, there is a learning curve to starting pitching. Houck has never pitched more than 119 innings in professional baseball, and he will be asked to for the first time in 2022.
The beginning of the season for Boston might not go as planned with so many key arms, not on the team or out nursing an injury. Some of these young pitchers need time to adapt to a new scenario like this, but if just a few of them can find their stride, Boston will be off and running with the best teams in the league.
The offense is not a problem, and it has not been for years in Boston. Pitching, especially in the starting rotation, has always been something that has prevented the Red Sox from reaching the pinnacle a number of times. Players who looked like they were guaranteed to be bullpen arms have switched to borderline starters just a few weeks ago. Some of the potential and talent are there in Seabold, possibly Crawford who according to Cora, "has some of the best stuff we have." Does Chaim need to make a trade for an experienced and reliable starting pitcher? That will be the question asked by many critics until one of the wild cards goes out and surprises the Fenway faithful.