Who will start Opening Day for Sox? Bello hoping for nod

January 20th, 2024

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- You might have heard that the Red Sox, as currently constructed, don’t have an established ace.

However, they do have an eager and talented righty who wants to take on that role and step atop the mound for Opening Day on March 28 in Seattle.

Speaking at Red Sox Winter Weekend on Saturday, , who is 24 and coming off his first full season in the Majors, didn’t back down when asked about trying to win that spot.

“Yeah, after this Winter Weekend, I’m going straight to Florida to get ready to try to compete for that spot,” Bello said. “Even if I don't get the Opening Day start, I want to be out there as the first or second starter. So yeah, that's my mentality, to compete for the top level in the rotation.”

It is that type of mentality the Red Sox need entering a season in which they will depend on their young core to take the next step.

What makes Bello so driven to take on that responsibility this early in his career?

“I think that's a goal that pretty much every starter [has] is to try to compete for that, or to throw the first day, Opening Day,” said Bello. “And that's one of the goals that I have for my career, not only this year but for years to come, to try to be that No. 1 pitcher in the Boston organization, and that's why I want to compete for that spot.”

Ace of the Red Sox is a distinguished position that has been held this century by the likes of Pedro Martinez (Bello’s mentor), Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi.

With Sale traded to Atlanta and James Paxton not likely to return as a free agent, it is up for grabs who will be the team’s ace in 2024. Free agent acquisition Lucas Giolito, who has pitched like an ace in the past, is also a candidate if he can rid himself of bad habits that developed with his mechanics the last two seasons. Nick Pivetta is the only other veteran on the staff, making him an outside candidate.

Then there is Bello, who knows that such an ascension won’t be handed out but instead earned. That’s why he will report to Spring Training earlier than ever before -- more than three weeks ahead of the official first workout on Feb. 14.

“Yeah, it's early. I think going there early will allow me to maintain my focus without any distractions,” Bello said. “And that's my mindset right now.”

Bello pitched like an ace at times last season, but the final numbers (12-11, 4.24 ERA in 28 starts) paint the picture of someone who will likely need to demonstrate improvement this spring for manager Alex Cora to hand him the ball on Opening Day.

Bello’s plan to take that next pivotal step in his career is to incorporate his slider as a reliable third pitch.

“At this point, I feel comfortable with the command of the slider,” Bello said. “So we’ll see in Spring Training.”

The slider wasn’t a very good pitch for Bello early last season, but it became a more significant part of his mix down the stretch.

Why does he think that pitch can be a big difference-maker?

“Because my two best pitches, they do pretty much the same thing, my sinker and my changeup,” Bello said. “They break to the same side. For me to have a pitch that will go to the other side, it’s huge. Last year I was able to compete with those two pitches, but this year, adding that third one, will be even better.”

This Spring Training could be an exciting one for Bello, other than his quest to earn the nod on Opening Day. With the Red Sox playing exhibition games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on March 9 and 10, Bello would love nothing more than to get a start in his native country.

“I’ve been getting a lot of questions about pitching there,” Bello said. “For me, it's very special to have the opportunity to pitch in the Dominican Republic. And not only because it's my home country, but a lot of family [members] are not able to come to the U.S. and see me pitch. For me to be able to pitch over there, it would mean the world to me.”

Bello said he hasn’t asked Cora directly to pitch one of those games. Does he think he will get the chance?

“Si,” Bello said with a wide grin.