FORT MYERS, Fla. — In “Camp Not Much Going On,” the story lines have pretty much taken care of themselves. Pablo Sandoval looks physically fit. Chris Sale is an animal. Rick Porcello and David Price look like elite pitchers. The lineup is set. You can pretty much name the seven bullpen arms right now (Craig Kimbrel, Tyler Thornburg, Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, Robbie Ross Jr., and Fernando Abad).
There’s a 25th roster spot available. Marco Hernandez? Josh Rutledge? OK, minor thing.
There’s one issue looming, however. Just one right now. And it’s a fairly big one.
Who will be the Red Sox’ fourth and fifth starters? There are three candidates for the two spots in All-Stars Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz, and Eduardo Rodriguez.
All three have had physical issues this spring that have pushed them back about a week. Wright has had to recover from bursitis and shoulder soreness from the base-running mishap he had against the Dodgers last August. Pomeranz had a PRP injection in his left elbow in October but says he now feels great. Rodriguez had his left knee falter on him in winter ball in Venezuela, but he, too, feels fine.
All three pitchers feel they will be ready when the real stuff begins. And we suppose the three-for-two competition may be decided by which of them might need more time and therefore be placed on the disabled list to start the season. In Rodriguez’s case, he could start the season in Pawtucket or go on the disabled list and stay in extended spring training. There’s also the possibility that one of the three goes to the bullpen.
This is the proverbial “good problem to have.” But it will be a closely watched issue.
Is it a competition? The three don’t really see it that way, but maybe they should. The fact that two guys who made the All-Star team last year and a promising lefthander in Rodriguez are competing for two spots is a pretty enviable position to be in.
Not so good for the guy left out.
“There’s always competition,” Pomeranz said. “I really don’t know what the situation is with everyone. I’m just trying to get ready for the season as a starter. Just worrying about myself.
“I am only about a week behind, and I’ll be able to catch up by the end. I’m not worried about that part.”
Pomeranz says he’s preparing as a starter, but the Red Sox used him in relief late last season and in the playoffs. In his career, he has appeared in virtually every role imaginable.
“I’ve been a closer, setup man, middle guy, starter,” he said. “I’ve been traded at mid-game, midseason, offseason, you name it. I’ve been traded four times in five years, and so I’ve had to be flexible. I want to be starter, but I’ll do what’s asked of me.”
Pomeranz, 28, made the National League All-Star team as Padre last season. He went 8-7 with a 2.47 ERA in 17 starts for San Diego, but he didn’t have much success in Boston (3-5 in 14 games, with a 4.59 ERA).
The Red Sox, who sent top pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza to San Diego to get Pomeranz, filed a grievance against the Padres for withholding his medical information, which included elbow issues. They had the chance to void the deal but chose not to. They also had a chance to deal Pomeranz in the offseason but traded Clay Buchholz instead.
Wright also says he is just trying to take care of himself. He’s had a long road back from a season in which he was an All-Star who pitched deep into games and saved the bullpen. But he, too, has pitched out of the bullpen, as recently as 2015.
“I’m just looking at my next bullpen and being concerned about that and focusing on that,” Wright said. “I want to go through all of the steps and then get into a game and here we go.
“In the end, it’s not going to be our decision, it’s going to be the manager’s decision. He’s going to pick the best five pitchers to start or whatever the situation is. One of us will be in the bullpen or wherever.”
Pomeranz said he has no idea what his velocity has been in his bullpen sessions, and he doesn’t care at this point.
“I don’t know about the velocity, but the ball is coming out great,” he said. “I’m not letting them fly, but I wouldn’t be normally at this time, anyway. I think when I get into the live BP, I’ll let a few fly.”
Pomeranz is just happy that he’s able to start the season with the Red Sox. There was a lot of interest in him in the offseason.
“It’s nice to come into spring training knowing some people, unlike last year where I came in at midseason and didn’t know anybody,” he said. “I’m a little bit more comfortable coming in and being around these guys, so I can relax, take it slow, and get ready for the season.”
As for the interest in him, he said: “I guess they’re always interested since I’ve been traded four times. It’s comforting, I guess. It’s better than no one wanting you.”
Many believe this is a big year for him in terms of taking the next step in his career.
Rodriguez has what many scouts consider No. 1-type stuff that should start to emerge. He has pitched some brilliant games, but he’s also been a disappointment at times. The Sox are waiting for that consistency to arrive.
Rodriguez would have to be lights-out in camp for him to start the season in the rotation. Or one of the veterans would have to need more time. Sox management and Rodriguez himself have downplayed the knee incident in winter ball, but it’s something to keep an eye on. The last thing you want to do is put Rodriguez in the bullpen; at his age and stage of development, he needs to pitch every five days.
In Camp Not Much Going On, it’s the hottest issue, and it probably won’t be resolved until the end of March.