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Rotation Reinforcements for Red Sox

Nick Pivetta pitches on the road for the Boston Red Sox.

The Boston Red Sox rotation has survived numerous injuries to their starting pitchers. Can the returning arms help a great rotation?

The Boston Red Sox rotation looked to be in the dire straits in April when SPs Brayan Bello, Nick Pivetta, and Garrett Whitlock were all on the Injured List. Speaking of Dire Straits, money for nothing starter Chris Sale is getting paid $17 million by the Red Sox this year. He took that money and beat the Sox 5-0 in a quality start for the Atlanta Braves last week. I miss the days when Sale threw six shutout innings for the Red Sox. Anyways, offseason acquisition SP Lucas Giolito is also out for the season. However, by mid-May, Andrew Bailey’s pitching staff is still leading the league in ERA (2.81), shutouts (six), and fewest walks (105). Here’s how they have done it.

The Workhorses

One of the later sections is “The Other Surprises,” and SPs Tanner Houck and Kutter Crawford’s performances this year qualify as surprises. There is one difference between them and the pitchers to be named later, though. The difference is both were in the Opening Day rotation. Houck has been one of the best in baseball, even earning the spot in my April AL All-Star team. Eight starts, 52.1 innings, and a 2.24 ERA are all well above preseason expectations. His 3-4 record is more a reflection of the abysmal offense the Sox have put forth this season than any fault of his.

Kutter Crawford emphasized leg strength this offseason be able to last longer into games and longer into the season. Too soon to say if it will help him across an entire season, but the work has certainly helped in his eight starts. His 2.24 ERA is sixth in the league, and again his record of 2-2 is much better than that alone indicates. I’m already willing to say he has been a more successful Crawford than Carl ever was for the Red Sox.

The Other Surprises

SP Cooper Criswell signed a one-year, $1 million deal this offseason. He was pursued as a depth piece, but he has stepped up as a reliable bottom of the rotation starter. The Sox are 5-1 in games where Criswell pitched (five starts, one relief appearance). The most innings he has thrown in a season is 33. This year he is already at 25.2. With good health he should blow that number out of the dirty water.

RP Josh Winckowski is now the odd man out. Winckowski competed for a spot in the rotation during Spring Training. He did not make the cut but was seen as a valuable piece to the bullpen. Therefore, when the injury bug came along, he was able to make some respectable starts. He never made a start of more than 4.1 innings, but that’s more than typically expected from a bullpen arm in the opener role.

Brayan Bello’s activation to the rotation was a win for the Sox but a loss for Winckowski. Due to an overabundance of righties in the bullpen, the Sox decided to option Winkcowski to Triple-A Worcester. Lefty RPs Cam Booser and Brennan Bernardino have proved their worth in the bullpen. Since the Sox are a team relying on pitching this year, staying sharp in Triple-A will be important for Winck. The Sox have thrown more breaking balls than any team in MLB this year, so injuries are likely to return this year. His ability to open, start, or come in for relief means he will be the next man up in the event of any injury to a pitcher, starter or reliever.

The Rotation Returners

Nick Pivetta looked like a pitcher who missed time to injury. Brayan Bello’s return to the rotation was much stronger. Part of this was Pivetta faced a much stronger oppenent than Bello did. Pivetta returned to face the Braves, who smacked him around for five runs (three of those homers) in only four innings. Rust is understandable at this stage, so we’ll call this a mulligan for Mr. Pivetta. Sale was on the mound for the Braves that day. Must be one of the few times in history where one team was paying both starters in a game. With that in mind, nice job on the Sox for paying for a winner, just the wrong one.

Bello faced the Washington Nationals over the weekend. The time off seemed to serve Bello well as he threw five innings, giving up two runs, four hits, and two walks. The one strikeout is not ideal, but outs are outs. The win improves his record to 4-1. His last start was April 19, so the shorter stink likely helped him. Pivetta went over a month between starts.

Garrett Whitlock is the last starter still on the IL. He could be nearing a return as he is slated to make a rehab start this week, and could return soon after. Let’s hope Whitlock lives up to his middle name and Getts healthy soon.

Close it out Kenley

The Red Sox and Nationals were in a tie game on May 11. In the bottom of the eighth, Sox had one on, two out, and OF Tyler O’Neill at the plate. After lefty RP Robert Garcia missed two pitches, the Nationals elected to walk him. Typically, that is a good plan, especially when the batter coming up is a lefty, right? Not if the lefty is 3B Rafael Devers. Raffy slapped a two run double into left field. Those two runs won the game for the Sox.

This begs the question, has Devers’ reputation fallen? Or is Nationals manager Dave Martinez too beholden to numbers? Statistically, Devers struggles against lefties, but he is the best hitter on the Red Sox. On every team there is at least one guy you never want to face. For the Red Sox, that guy is Devers. Keep on punishing those foolish enough to doubt you, Raffy.

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