For David Price, the wait to resume throwing continues, a process that has rendered the Red Sox lefthander a bit stir crazy.
For Drew Pomeranz, Friday marks a critical step in his wait-and-see spring, as the lefthander made his first start since he walked off the mound after two innings with triceps tightness last weekend.
At a time when Kyle Kendrick represents arguably the Red Sox’ only major league-ready rotation depth option, it has been a slightly unsettling spring for the team’s rotation outlook. There is immense potential in a group that features three pitchers who have performed at Cy Young-caliber standards (Price, Rick Porcello, Chris Sale), two additional 2016 All-Stars (Pomeranz and Steven Wright) and a promising 23-year-old (Eduardo Rodriguez). But the injury to Price (not to mention another potential depth option, Roenis Elias), the gradual progression of Pomeranz, and the spring struggles of Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, and Hector Velazquez raise questions about whether the Red Sox are built to withstand the attrition of the season.
That said, the Red Sox don’t appear to be rushing to find additional reinforcements. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, asked if anything this spring had altered his view on the need to add starting depth, suggested he had not.
“Not to date,” he said. “People are so reactive. Not that you don’t constantly keep a pulse of everything as far as you can, but to be overly aggressive in terms of trying to do something in that regard, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
Dombrowski identified a few sources of calm regarding the Red Sox’ rotation depth. Among them:
■ In the absence of Price, if Pomeranz emerges healthy from the spring, the Sox feel like a rotation of Porcello, Sale, Wright, Rodriguez, and Pomeranz remains formidable. “That gives us five quality big league starters,” said Dombrowski.
■ Kendrick has pitched well enough to give the club a sense of comfort should they need to look beyond those five at the start of the year.
■ Though Elias has been sidelined with an intercostal injury, he’s expected to be able to resume pitching soon. “He’s not that far behind,” Dombrowski said. “People call me about guys like an Elias all the time because they’re looking for those types of [pitchers].”
■ Dombrowski said that past performance creates the possibility that pitchers like Owens, Johnson, and Velazquez could all emerge as depth options. Dombrowski noted that Owens showed improvement in a recent minor league game using a modified delivery.
■ Price is expected back at a relatively early stage of the season, possibly around early May.
“I don’t want to put a date on it, but somewhere around there,” Dombrowski said of Price’s potential return date, suggesting that it hadn’t altered much from expectations since he’d been seen by Drs. James Andrews and Neal ElAttrache at the beginning of the month.
■ The expectation of an early-season return by Price not only offers reassurance to Dombrowski about the team’s rotation depth but that also serves as a disincentive for any remaining free agents (though not named by Dombrowski, veterans such as Doug Fister and Colby Lewis fall into this category) to sign with the Sox. While it’s easy to look at the Red Sox’ depth as a shortcoming, free agents likely would see a lack of obvious opportunity in Boston.
“I’m not saying that if somebody fell in our lap we wouldn’t be happy to put them in Triple A, but I don’t have a big league job to offer. [It’s] no different than it’s been all winter: Where do you put them? I don’t have an answer to that,” said Dombrowski. “Somebody, if they’re going to sign with you can say, ‘Yeah, I’ll sign.’ Are you going to sit Rodriguez? Are you going to sit Porcello? Are you going to sit Sale? I don’t really know what that answer is for somebody at this point. And if Price comes back quickly, what do you do with that guy? I’d gladly have two or three more guys at Triple A that were big league starters, that were good, that we can bring up at any time. But they want to sign with a big league contract.”
In other words, while the Red Sox will explore the market for any opportunities created at the end of spring training, the likeliest scenario is that, to open the season, the Red Sox’ starting pitching depth options will remain the ones already in their organization.