Red Sox could head into season with pitching uncertainty
FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — The idea of beginning a season with four regular pitchers unavailable could be anywhere from daunting to devastating for many teams.
But that is what the Boston Red Sox could be facing.
The Red Sox have four pitchers who might be out for opening day. Three potential starters — left-handers Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez and knuckleballer Steven Wright — could start the season on the disabled list for the AL East champions.
Closer Craig Kimbrel has been in Boston since Feb. 28, when 4-month-old daughter Lydia, who was born with heart ailments, underwent her second surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Kimbrel has been working out in the Boston area but has not been able to pitch to hitters, and there’s no timetable for his return.
New manager Alex Cora and the organization have been completely supportive of Kimbrel staying with his family. But with opening day little more than two weeks away, they might have to get creative.
“We’ve got a few things set up for him up there,” Cora said Monday morning before his team beat Toronto 6-4 in Dunedin, Fla. “It’s hard for me to tell him he has to come here. There’s ways for him to face quality hitting. We just took a 2½-hour drive here, and what’s that for a flight, 2½ hours?”
Perhaps the Red Sox could fly hitters to Boston to fly Kimbrel.
“I don’t know,” Cora said. “We’ll see.”
Carson Smith, Matt Barnes and Joe Kelly are potential closers in Kimbrel’s absence.
Pomeranz, Rodriguez and Wright have all been delayed by injuries this spring. And, the Red Sox have been bringing along left-handers Chris Sale and David Price — the top two pitchers in the rotation — slowly this season in an effort to monitor their workloads and keep them healthy and strong throughout the season.
Rodriguez and Wright, both coming back from knee surgeries, have yet to appear in a Grapefruit League game. Pomeranz left his only start of the spring, March 2 against the Cardinals, after one inning with a mild flexor tendon strain in his forearm.
Cora has said Pomeranz is progressing. He threw a short bullpen session Monday morning, mostly fastballs, and could throw live batting practice later this week. He would likely need several more of those sessions before returning to game activity.
“We have to wait and see,” Cora said, on whether Pomeranz could be ready for opening day. “I’m not going to push him just to push him.”
Cora is encouraged by Wright’s progress. The knuckleballer is scheduled to throw a two-inning bullpen session on Wednesday.
“Big day for him,” Cora said. “Two innings of live BP is a big step for him, to face hitters and be on the mound. Kind of like that last hurdle. Sometimes you need that to feel OK physically and mentally.”
“The Steven Wright hurdle is huge because of who he is. His arm is there. We’ll clear this hurdle and go from there. If he can clear that one, you never know what can happen,” Cora said.
The Red Sox are taking a more cautious approach with Rodriguez.
“Eddie threw two innings today,” Cora said. “That was huge for him. He’s been amazing in the training room and weight room.”
Rodriguez has also been a regular at the pingpong table in the team’s spring training clubhouse.
“You guys have seen him play,” Cora said. “I haven’t seen him. When I see him, I look to the left rather than right.”
Right-hander Hector Velazquez and left-hander Brian Johnson are the top candidates to take a spot in the rotation if a starter is not available.
“I understand there are 162 games and I hear people say that the games count just as much in April (as in) late September,” Cora said. “But we want them healthy for the majority of the season.”