fb-pixel Skip to main content
Peter Abraham | On baseball

It was just spring training, but a pitcher the Red Sox could have signed looked better than one they did

Charlie Morton, shown last month with catcher Shea Langeliers, only wanted a one-year contract, but the Red Sox weren't interested despite massive needs in their starting rotation.Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com/Associated Press

NORTH PORT, Fla. — The one-year, $10 million contract given to Garrett Richards in February was the biggest step the Red Sox took toward improving what was an awful rotation last season.

Chaim Bloom passed on pursuing more reliable options, among them Charlie Morton. Atlanta moved quickly and signed Morton to a one-year, $15 million deal in November.

That $5 million difference is not necessarily the dividing line between chasing a playoff berth and tepidly dipping a toe back into competitiveness, but watching Richards face Morton on Sunday was illuminating.

Morton pitched three scoreless innings, working out of a jam in the first and retiring nine of the final 11 batters he faced.


Richards had a fidgety two innings, giving up four runs on three hits, four walks, and a wild pitch. For every good pitch, there were two bad ones as he struggled to find a consistent arm angle. The plan had been for Richards to go three innings, but his pitch count prohibited that.

Garrett Richards is starting his first year with the Red Sox.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Alex Cora didn’t like the walks, but Richards told him afterward he felt fine physically and that was good enough for now.

The Braves placed their bet on reliability. Morton, even at 37, is likely to give them a chance to win far more often than not. He is 33-11 with a 3.24 earned run average the last three seasons and made 72 starts.

Cora is one of Morton’s biggest fans and the Red Sox were seen as a logical landing spot, especially with Morton seeking only a one-year deal. But the Braves made him a priority and didn’t waste time.

Richards is 7-7 with a 4.09 ERA the last three seasons and has made 29 starts. He ended last season in San Diego’s bullpen and was used in low-leverage situations in the postseason.


The Sox placed their bet on potential. Richards, who turns 33 in May, is healthy after a career of battling injuries and pitch data suggests he has all the tools required to be successful.

If Richards clicks, the Sox hold a $10 million team option on him for 2022 that could look like a bargain. If not, it’s just a one-year deal.

The problem is Richards projects as their No. 3 starter and, through two spring training starts, has put 12 of the 22 batters he faced on base. Six have scored, and he has twice as many walks (six) as strikeouts (three).

“Obviously we have to make adjustments,” Cora said. “We’re getting to know the individual. It’s a different delivery … but overall we’re good with the stuff.”

When the Braves loaded the bases with one out in the first inning, Richards stepped off the mound to collect himself and struck out Travis d’Arnaud swinging. Then Dansby Swanson crushed a three-run double to the base of the wall in center.

Richards hasn’t looked comfortable yet, a notion he readily agreed with.

“It’s spring training and you’re working on stuff,” Richards said. “I’m just trying to feel some familiar things. Just working through it.”

Specifically, he feels like his upper body and lower body aren’t in sync. His arm feels fine, his problems are mechanical.

“Let’s get it all out now and start to sharpen the knife towards the end and hopefully we’re clicking,” Richards said.

Morton also got in a jam in the first inning when Kiké Hernández doubled to right field and Alex Verdugo walked. With runners on first and third, Morton struck out Rafael Devers and Christian Vázquez.


Richards, who could pass for Russell Hammond in “Almost Famous” with his long hair and groovy mustache, isn’t worried. He’s getting accustomed to the Sox, and they’re learning more about him.

As pitching coach Dave Bush works more with Richards, they’ll start to speak the same language and it’ll come together. Or at least that is the plan.

Richards has gone through this before.

“It’s early in spring training and it is just spring training,” he said. “Just trying to get back on track, man.”

Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.