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Red Sox starters have been reliable, but who would you trust to start Game 2 of a playoff series?

Eduardo Rodriguez yielded a long home run to the Angels' Jared Walsh (right) in the fifth inning.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The rotation has unquestionably been a strength of the Red Sox this season. The quintet of Nate Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez, Martín Pérez, Nick Pivetta, and Garrett Richards have started 86 of the 88 games.

No other team has been as fortunate and it’s a testament to the work the pitchers put in preparing for the season and the diligence of the medical staff in keeping them healthy.

Sox starters haven’t been spectacular — they’re eighth in the American League with a 4.39 earned run average — but they’re reliable. For a team with a high-powered offense, that’s what you need to succeed over the course of the regular season.


“Those guys have been great,” pitching coach Dave Bush said Wednesday before a 5-4 loss against the Los Angeles Angels. “They’ve posted every five days. They’ve done it over and over again this entire stretch.”

But here’s a question: Who would you trust to start Game 2 of a playoff series when the importance of starting pitching becomes even more magnified?

Eovaldi is an easy choice for Game 1. He has been excellent this season, going 9-5 with 3.66 ERA and is a deserving All-Star.

But after that it gets complicated.

Rodriguez, the ace of the 2019 team, is 6-5 with a 5.52 ERA after giving up four runs in five innings against the Angels, the last two on long home runs by Shohei Ohtani and Jared Walsh.

“A grinder,” Rodriguez said when asked to describe his first half.

Rodriguez missed last season and his struggles are understandable. He’s a good candidate to put it together.

Pérez has been a solid No. 5. But the Sox clearly don’t trust him beyond the fifth inning.

Given his recent issues, Richards is at this stage where he might not even be on a playoff roster.


Richards is scheduled to start Friday when the Sox return to Fenway Park to face the Phillies in the final series before the break.

Right now, Pivetta would be the guy. The always fired-up Canadian is 7-3 with a 4.09 ERA and would run through a wall for the chance.

It speaks to the importance of how the rotation will unfold after the All-Star break.

The Sox have made it clear they’re planning on involving Tanner Houck in some fashion sometime soon. He could be an occasional No. 6 starter, replace Richards or serve as a long reliever to take some burden off the rotation.

The Sox are scheduled to play 18 games in as many days coming out of the break, 10 of them on the road. All against teams in the division.

As Bush said, trying to protect the starters puts more burden on the bullpen.

“We’re thinking about all those things each and every day,” Bush said.

Houck has shown a lot of promise. But he also has five career major league starts and it’s too early to know where he would fit best. Until Houck shows he has a reliable third pitch against major league hitters, he’s a closer in waiting.

Then we get to the 6-foot-6-inch question mark that is Chris Sale. It has been nearly 700 days since he appeared in a major league game and the Sox are judiciously slow-playing his return.

Sale is scheduled for another simulated game Saturday and from there should start a minor league assignment.


Bush said the plan is still to build Sale’s pitch count up so he can go five innings once he returns to the majors.

That would have him returning at the end of the month or a week later.

If Sale comes back as a fire-breathing ace, none of us will be surprised. He’s wired to overcome obstacles and will view his comeback as another chance to prove to the baseball world just how great he is.

But there’s so much unknown given the time away. Many pitchers aren’t themselves until the second season after their return from Tommy John surgery.

“I don’t know,” Bush said. “So far his stuff has been really good. It’s a bullpen/mound session. I haven’t seen him in game situations yet. But based on where he is right now, I feel good about what he’s doing.”

But Bush also acknowledged there will be times when Sale will look rusty.

The other possibility is Chaim Bloom swings a trade to improve the rotation.

The Sox rode their starters to a championship in 2018 as Alex Cora was creative in how he used them. The more reliable choices he has come October, the better.

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