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What We’d Like To See In September – Part One – Starting Pitching

With the calendar turned to September, we reach the final stretch of the baseball season.  The Red Sox hold a comfortable lead in the American League East (8.5 games over the Yankees going into Tuesday’s games) and will have ample time to get the pieces in place for another October playoff run.  In this week’s BSoT Red Sox Column to be Named Later, we begin a series in which we’ll look at different parts of the Red Sox and identify what we’d like to see from them over the final month of the season.  In this first installment, we look at the starting pitchers.

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Let’s Get It Started

The Red Sox have not been able to consistently run out their projected stable of starting pitchers since reporting to Spring Training on Valentine’s Day.  The starting staff appeared to be set with Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Drew Pomeranz, and Eduardo Rodriguez, in no particular order after Sale.  Unfortunately, injuries (Sale, Pomeranz and Rodriguez) wreaked havoc with the staff.  To their credit, the Red Sox were able to not only weather the storm, but play near .700 baseball for much of the season despite utilizing Brian Johnson, Hector Valazquez, Steven Wright, and Jalen Beeks.  Nathan Eovaldi was acquired in mid-July to help shore up the beleaguered staff.

For our purposes, let’s consider the current starting staff, when healthy, to consist of Sale, Price, Porcello, Rodriguez, and Eovaldi.  Here’s what I would like to see from each of them in September.

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Chris Sale:  This one is easy…rest and get healthy.  When healthy, there is no question Sale is the team’s ace and arguably the best pitcher in the game today.  However, Sale has been on the disabled list since late July with left shoulder inflammation.  This may be nothing, simply a precautionary measure and luxury afforded by their comfortable lead in the Al East, but it is nonetheless a cause for concern.  Sale has pitched only five innings since the end of July, and will be slowly ramped up to full strength by the end of the month.  Let’s all hope this leaves him fresh and hungry come playoff time.

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David Price:  In his third season in Boston, Price had finally appeared to return to the dominance he had exhibited earlier in his Cy Young days.  Price stepped when Sale went on the DL and, in five starts in August, threw 30 innings and allowed only seven runs in five starts, including six strong innings against his nemesis, the Yankees.  Unfortunately, trouble seems to find Price even when he’s on his best behavior.  Price took a line drive off his left wrist in his last start against Miami, and missed his next turn in Atlanta.

Like Sale, there is no reason to rush Price back into the rotation, especially with expanded rosters in September.  With Price’s issues with numbness in his fingers, an injury to the wrist causes more than normal concern.  Like Sale, Price needs only to regain his health.  And then he needs to just shut up and pitch.

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Rick Porcello:  Has there been a bigger tease amongst the starting pitching than Porcello.  At times he flashes the stuff that won him 22 games and a Cy Young Award in 2016.  At other times, he’s just another guy.  In order to be successful in the playoffs, Porcello needs to cut down on the home runs allowed.  Since August 1st, Porcello has allowed nine home runs in seven starts, which has been a major contributor to his 5.11 ERA over that span.

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Eduardo Rodriguez:  The easy answer here would also be for Rodriguez to get healthy.  Rodriguez was pitching as well as he had at any point in his career when he took a tumble while covering first and suffered a badly sprained ankle in the weekend before the All-Star Break.  Rodriguez was impressive in his return last Satruday against the White Sox, striking out 12 in 5 2/3 innings.

Assuming E-Rod is now healthy, the Red Sox need him to pitch deeper into games.  In 20 starts this season, Rodriguez has only recorded an out beyond the sixth inning in two of those starts.  Given the current volatility of the Red Sox relievers, starters will need to log as many outs as they can before turning it over to the bullpen if the Sox have hopes to play deep into October.

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Nathan Eovaldi:  Speaking of teases…in his first two starts with the Red Sox since being acquired from Tampa Bay, Eovaldi first shut out the Twins over seven innings, and then followed that up with eight shutout innings against the Yankees.  Red Sox fans were lauding Dave Dombrowski for his theft of Eovaldi from the Rays.  But water always seeks its level, and eventually so do journeyman starting pitchers.  Since the start against the Yankees Eovaldi has made six starts and has failed to pitch beyond the fifth in all but one of those starts, logging a 6.85 ERA and a 2.10 WHIP.

Assuming the other four pitchers already discussed are healthy heading into the playoffs, Eovaldi projects to be slotted to the bullpen.  He can touch 100 on the radar gun, but despite the big arm, he sports a pedestrian strikeout rate of only 6.0 Ks/9 innings pitched.  This ranks tenth out of the ten men who have started games for the Red Sox this season.  

Eovaldi’s best pitch is his cutter, which is not necessarily a strikeout pitch, but normally is not met with solid contact.  During his first two games, Eovaldi’s cutter was working, and that was the main reason for his success.  If Eovaldi can find the touch on his cutter, he can be an effective weapon out of the bullpen for two or more innings in the playoffs, possibly the long sought eighth inning man the Red Sox have desperately needed all season.  If Eovaldi can’t regain his cutter, he may find himself the odd man out of a playoff roster spot.

Coming up in Part Two of What We’d Like To See In September, we will look at the starting position players.  You may think the starting lineup is established, but stay tuned for some surprises in the next BSoT Red Sox Column to be Named Later.

Follow Bill on Twitter @BTravers_BSoT.

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