ATLANTA — The Red Sox will have some tough decisions when it comes to their rotation. Manager Alex Cora has made that clear with starters like Garrett Whitlock and James Paxton entering the mix soon.
Who stays in the rotation? Who loses their spot?
After Wednesday’s performance against the Braves, it’s clear Brayan Bello should keep his starting role, after navigating a stacked Atlanta lineup that had pounded Nick Pivetta for seven runs in four innings the previous night.
Bello wouldn’t allow that to be his fate. Not in the slightest.
The 23-year-old completed six innings Wednesday, allowing just two runs — having held the Braves scoreless through five innings — in a 5-2 win on the road which helped salvage a series split in the two-game set. The Braves have arguably the best team in baseball, but Bello held his own and then some.
Bello compiled 13 swings and misses through three innings of work (18 total), and the Braves managed just three hits off the righthander through five innings, all three on the ground.
“[Bello’s] stuff was really good,” Cora said. “The velocity was up, the changeup was playing, the slider was good against a great lineup. I think with all due respect to everybody in the National League, I think that’s the best team in the National League. From top to bottom, they’re relentless.”
Bello got a dose of some of the Braves’ resolve in the sixth inning.
The Sox had a 2-0 lead heading into the bottom half of that frame following a pair of RBI singles by Kiké Hernández and Jarren Duran in the fourth. The Braves finally got to Bello in the sixth when Ronald Acuña tagged a leadoff homer to left that traveled 470 feet. Catcher Connor Wong positioned himself on the outer half of the plate on a 3-1 count, but Bello missed high and inside on a sinker that left Acuña’s bat at 113 miles per hour.
Later in the inning, Austin Riley stung a single up the middle and eventually came around to score behind a two-out Eddie Rosario single to right.
But Bello kept the Red Sox in the contest, striking out five in his 100-pitch performance, reaching 98 m.p.h. with his four-seamer and 97 with his sinker.
“The velocity was definitely up,” Bello said. “I think it had a lot to do with just pitching in warm weather. Everywhere we’ve gone, it has been a little cold.”
The Sox’ bats backed up their starter in the seventh when Duran put together a leadoff walk and stole second before Triston Casas negotiated a free pass, too.
The Red Sox looked as if they would exit the frame without a run after Wong and Rafael Devers — who entered the game to pinch hit — struck out. But Raimel Tapia, the second pinch hitter in the inning, wrapped a line drive double down the right field line which put the Sox ahead, 3-2. The visitors added two more runs in the ninth when Duran led off the inning with a double, his 12th of the season in just 22 games. Casas blasted a two-run shot, stretching the Sox’ lead to 5-2.
Kenley Jansen picked up his 400th save in the bottom of the ninth, becoming just the seventh closer to reach that mark.
That’s a story line of its own, though. One for the history books.
Bello’s night Wednesday, however, for this team moving forward is an important story line, too. The righthander was sent down to Triple A Worcester during the Baltimore series a few weeks back after allowing eight runs over his first two starts of the season. At the time, Cora said that it’s not about developing young pitchers at the big league level for the Sox. It’s about the team putting out the best possible players to help the club win.
But the Whitlock injury put Bello right back in the fold, and since then, he’s responded, yielding just five runs over his last three starts.
“I think it definitely lit a spark under me being sent down,” Bello said. “And now facing a team like the Braves, that’s so good, if they’re good, I consider myself to be pretty good myself. And I showed it tonight.”
He’s shown he deserves a permanent stay in the rotation, too.