CHICAGO — Chris Sale threw off flat ground on Friday and off a bullpen mound on Saturday. David Price has a sore wrist and will not pitch in Atlanta. The Red Sox are trying to figure out who will pitch Tuesday and Wednesday against the Braves.
All the more reason that in his comeback game from the disabled list, Eduardo Rodriguez’s dazzling performance on Saturday night — 12 strikeouts, three hits, one walk, one run over 5⅔ innings — was a strong first step toward fixing the struggling staff.
As much as the Red Sox may be the best team in baseball, let’s face it, we’re all thinking postseason. And right now who could possibly like their pitching? The Red Sox rotation, currently missing Sale and Price, was 0-3 with a 7.62 ERA over seven games before E-Rod threw his beauty.
“Our pitching has been struggling the last dozen games so we need to straighten that out, but I think that’s doable,” Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said before Saturday night’s 6-1 victory. “We’ll get a few guys back, which I think will make a difference. You only have a tendency to look at your own pitchers but a lot of the guys who were traded have scuffled too, so they don’t make you necessarily better. Sometimes they have little nicks that affect their performance that I know about that you wouldn’t necessarily know about. It’s not per se an injury, but I’m aware of those things. A lot of times guys are fighting through that.”
There’s still no firm timetable for Sale’s return, but Red Sox manager Alex Cora insists that Sale will have enough time to “stretch out” and maybe even be used as an “opener” in his first start back. Cora says he has a day in mind. There’s no word on when Price will be back.
Rick Porcello has had a couple of poor outings lately, but he’s healthy. Can’t tell you how valuable he is not only from a pitching point of view but from a leadership angle as well.
As for Nathan Eovaldi, we thought the Red Sox had acquired from the Rays the second coming of Nolan Ryan after we watched his first two starts. Since then, he’s fallen off a cliff. Even in a rain-shortened outing on Friday night against the White Sox, he allowed three runs in two innings. Pedro Martinez had worked with him during the week after Martinez thought he detected a flaw in his delivery, in which he was landing on his heels rather than on his toes. If Eovaldi was landing on his toes on Friday it didn’t make a bit of difference.
Give Brian Johnson some credit — he’s done his job. Cora has decided he’s not going to go much past four or five innings and the hope has been he keeps the team in the game. Which he has done. Cora has had to use Hector Velazquez as a fifth guy and well, it’s been underwhelming.
Then we turn to the bullpen.
There has to be some concern about closer Craig Kimbrel. He’s really struggled. Cora says it’s because his curveball is being picked up by hitters. He’s exposing too much of the ball and hitters appear to know when the fastball is coming. That is the fix that pitching experts Dana LeVangie and Brian Bannister are trying to make.
Setup man Matt Barnes has hit a rough stretch. He had no movement on his fastball in his last outing. Heath Hembree also has seemed to hit a wall.
Joe Kelly has smoothed out and is pitching well. Ryan Brasier continues to be one of Dombrowski’s great finds this season.
The playoff roster deadline came and went on Friday and the Red Sox weren’t able to shore up their bullpen. It’s hard. There were two relievers who were dealt who might have helped. The Red Sox had no shot at Ryan Madson, who was claimed by the Dodgers.
Players have to go through waivers in their own league first before they are available to be claimed by a team in the other league. Madson, who had been with the Nationals, hasn’t been very good, either.
The other reliever who might have helped was White Sox lefty Xavier Cedeno, whom the Red Sox could have traded for because he had already cleared waivers. He went to Milwaukee. For some reason, Dombrowski didn’t think he was an upgrade over what his team had.
“I did not think we’d make any trades,” Dombrowski said. “Of all the players we claimed in August, which were numerous, we got one player and that was it and it was more of a block. There wasn’t one player that we had interest in which we wanted to pursue. Some guys got through waivers but we didn’t pursue any of those players.”
The Sox recalled Robby Scott and Bobby Poyner as their September call-ups. The time to improve the bullpen would have been at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Dombrowski had tried unsuccessfully to deal for Kelvin Herrera and Zach Britton.
Who knows, maybe the return of Steven Wright to a bullpen role, E-Rod to a starter’s role, and the eventual return of Sale will be all the Red Sox need in the pitching department.We’ve seen how impressive Wright can be when healthy — as a starter or reliever. E-Rod was on his way to an impressive season before he suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him for six weeks.
It’s always tough to bring up the shortcomings of a 94-win team in early September. The Red Sox are certainly not alone, but if you believe quality pitching is vital in the postseason, it must be on the same level that Rodriguez gave them on Saturday night.