Sox rotation 'solid': Cora goes with 5-man

Manager likes improved pitching depth, bullpen full of options

March 16th, 2021

Originally open to the possibility of deploying a six-man rotation to start the season, Red Sox manager Alex Cora closed the door on that potential scenario when he announced on Tuesday that he will go with a traditional five-man rotation.

Though Cora hasn’t officially named the five starters who will occupy a rotation that is much-improved from a year ago, it is fairly obvious the quintet will consist of , , , and .

“It’s a solid one, and everybody has their strengths,” said Cora of his starting five. “Obviously they have their weaknesses but we’ve got changeups and we’ve got fastballs at 97 and we’ve got breaking balls so it's just not velo, either, right? Like, for certain teams you go and you know you're gonna get from 97 to 100 and then you prepare for that.

“With us, it’s gonna be a little bit different but the constant is that we can get people out in the strike zone. It doesn't matter what stuff you have. We've been preaching that and they've been doing a good job with that. So we feel very comfortable.”

While Cora will stay traditional with his number of starters, he will go a little bit outside the box by carrying nine relievers.

The Red Sox can do this because of the versatility of their position-player roster. Given the ability of Kiké Hernández and Marwin Gonzalez to play all over the diamond, Cora is comfortable going with just three players on the bench.

Tanner Houck, Boston’s No. 7 prospect who started on Tuesday, and Matt Andriese are the two pitchers who will continue to get stretched out this spring in the event there is an injury in the starting rotation.

Houck, who dazzled in three late-season starts at the end of 2020, is likely to start the season at the alternate training site and then move into the rotation for Triple-A Worcester.

Andriese should be a long reliever for Cora.

In 2020, Boston’s rotation ranked 13th out of 15 teams in the American League with a 5.34 ERA.

“Since Day 1, we’ve said it, the difference is that we’re deeper this year than in previous years, and that's a testament of where we are at as an organization and what we did in the offseason, so we're very comfortable with this group,” said Cora.

The Red Sox dealt with a near-daily mystery last year of not knowing who was going to start games. Only Pérez was healthy for the whole season.

Now they have Rodriguez, their ace, back after missing all of last season due to myocarditis. They added Richards -- known for his high spin rate -- as a free agent and he appears to be over all the injuries that dogged him in recent years.

Pivetta seems comfortable in his new surroundings after being acquired from the Phillies late last season.

Eovaldi threw 100 mph 10 times out of 64 total pitches in his most recent Spring Training start, a sign of how healthy he is these days.

Though there is no timetable for it yet, the Red Sox should get their most accomplished pitcher -- lefty Chris Sale -- back from Tommy John surgery at some point during the season.

The nine-pitcher bullpen will be led by Matt Barnes and Adam Ottavino, two veteran righties who are currently in competition to be the closer.

Japanese rookie righty Hirokazu Sawamura is expected to be a key setup cog, and the same goes for electric young lefty Darwinzon Hernandez.

Lefty Josh Taylor -- impressive two years ago as a rookie but slowed during last year's shortened season -- is another reliever all but certain to make the team.

Rule 5 Draft pick Garrett Whitlock is another pitcher who has continually impressed Cora, and he has the inside track to break camp as an arm who can, like Andriese, offer length out of the bullpen.

It seems unlikely Ryan Brasier will be ready for Opening Day due to missing time because of a personal issue and also coming off a broken right pinkie finger that he suffered during the offseason.

That leaves some competition for the last couple of spots, and Austin Brice, Colten Brewer and Phillips Valdez will be among those in competition.