Spring training is prime time for overreactions. From veterans showing poor performances as they continue to shake off the cobwebs to unknown, undrafted non-roster invitees mashing, we watch each pitch and every at-bat meticulously thinking it has any bearing on the season to come. However, there are some storylines that may lead to regular season consequences. In just the first full week of grapefruit league action, the Red Sox have already had their fair share.
About a week ago, second baseman Dustin Pedroia (knee) was placed on the 60-day injured list. It’s been incredibly difficult for fans to watch Pedroia suffer setback after setback since 2017 when then-Baltimore Oriole Manny Machado slid into second base and took Pedey out, first injuring his knee. The slide is still hotly contested as a dirty play by the current San Diego third baseman.Embed from Getty Images
Pedroia has only played in nine major league games during the past two seasons and hasn’t stepped foot on the field since 17 April 2019. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pedey hangs it up this year, despite two more years remaining in his contract. He turns 37 years old this year and I say if he suits up again, it’ll be followed by an on-field ceremony where he announces his retirement. I hope for the sake of the 2020 Red Sox he’s still a presence within the clubhouse.
Speaking of setbacks, starting pitcher Chris Sale won’t be making the Opening Day roster. He’s instead expected to start the season on the 15-day IL due to his bout with the flu and pneumonia in early February that forced him to take things a little more slowly in camp.Embed from Getty Images
Sale hasn’t pitched since 13 August 2019 when he was shut down for the season with elbow soreness. Sale’s shoulder was also suspect throughout the team’s 2018 championship season but he recovered in time for the postseason stretch. His velocity had dipped but he was still locating pitches, especially his devastating slider. You still never knew what to expect when he took the mound, since one day he’d be carving up the opposing lineup then show up five days later and toss a stinker.
Luckily, Eduardo Rodriguez has stepped up during his early showing this spring and looks to be Boston’s Opening Day starter. He recently threw three shutout innings against the New York Yankees, giving up just two hits and striking out six. Following his career-year in 2019, as long as E-Rod remains healthy, he could certainly shine as the staff’s ace even after Sale returns to the rotation. However, remaining healthy is easier said than done for Rodriguez, at least in the past. There’s always some sort of leg ailment popping up. There was even a scare last week when his first start was pushed back. He may not match last year’s production (19-6, 3.81 ERA) but if he remains reliable, he will surely become a key to this season’s success.Embed from Getty Images
Another glimmer of hope in this season’s patchwork rotation is Nathan Eovaldi. In his last start against the Atlanta Braves, he fired three shutout innings and allowed only one hit while fanning four. Eovaldi is expected to start the season in the number two slot in the rotation behind E-Rod. Eovaldi’s in a great position for a bounce-back season after a lacklustre 2019 where he split time between the bullpen and starting rotation.
Finally, to fill in some of the gaps in the starting rotation, it looks more and more likely that the Red Sox will turn to chief baseball officer Chiam Bloom’s expertise around the opener concept to fill the fourth and fifth slots of the rotation, at least for the early portion of the 2020 campaign. According to MLB.com, manager Ron Roenicke and other members of the coaching staff met with Bloom on Sunday morning to discuss how an opener (or two) could take shape for Boston. While no official details have yet been shared on who could serve as the opener, there’s plenty of speculation already and Roenicke said filling in the rotation’s gaps comes down to the personnel available.
Roenicke told MLB.com’s, Ian Browne:
“If your personnel really fits this opener-type thing, it makes sense. It makes a lot of sense, but if you have a stud fourth or fifth starter, you do it the other way.”
I’ve honestly been a fan of the opener for a while. It’s become more and more common in the postseason, so why not make it a normalised part of the game? It injects a new aspect of strategy and adds to the game within the game. I hope we get a taste of this in the latter half of spring training!
Greg Desrosiers is covering the Boston Red Sox during 2020 as part of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @GDesrosiers93