BOSTON — Chris Sale is recovering from elbow surgery. David Price was traded. Rick Porcello left as a free agent. Eduardo Rodriguez tested positive for COVID-19.
The Boston Red Sox are scrambling to put their starting rotation back together for the 60-game baseball season, and it won’t look like the one fans might have expected at the end of last year — or even the start of spring training in February.
“Our loss of a couple guys, it makes a big difference,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “Eddie, we know will be back, [it’s] just a question of when. But anytime you lose that many starting pitchers, it’s hard to replace those guys.”
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, who had success using an opener in Tampa Bay, had already been open-minded about using a reliever to start — even before trading Price and losing Sale to Tommy John surgery this spring.
But now it will be a virtual necessity.
The Red Sox can hope the shortened season and training camp — along with the possibility that a positive COVID-19 test takes a star player out of the lineup — will put less of an emphasis on having a set rotation.
Or, maybe it will become even more important.
“I think the game is humbling enough that we should be careful to think we can know too much,” Bloom told reporters last month. “There are going to be some other things that are different. Given that we haven’t done this before — especially under these circumstances — I don’t think we really know.”
Starting from scratch
With Rodriguez unlikely to be ready for opening day, the rotation looks like Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez, Ryan Weber and Brian Johnson, followed by an opener.
“It’s hard to say that you’d ever feel really comfortable with all the starting pitching that you have,” Roenicke said. “Rarely do you have six, seven, eight starters that you feel great about. And you know you’re not going to just use five guys. That just doesn’t happen in today’s game.”
Rodriguez, 27, was one of the team’s biggest bright spots last season, when the Red Sox missed the playoffs for the first time in four years. He went 19-6 with a 3.81 ERA and struck out 213 batters in 203 1/3 innings to finish sixth in the AL Cy Young balloting.
With Price gone to Los Angeles as part of the Mookie Betts trade and Sale sitting out for Tommy John surgery, Rodríguez was the front-runner to start opening day. But he has already missed half of the spring training reboot; he is expected to miss the first time through the rotation, at least.
Eovaldi, who made just 12 starts last year because of midseason elbow surgery, has gone from being the projected No. 4 starter to the team’s ace. He was having a strong spring when camps were closed on March 12, pitching eight scoreless innings and striking out 12 over three outings.
Perez, who signed as a free agent, went 10-7 with a 5.12 ERA for Minnesota last year after spending the first seven years of his career with the Rangers. Weber went 2-4 with a 5.09 ERA in 18 appearances for Boston last year.
After a 2018 season that showed promise (4-5, 4.17 ERA), Johnson was 1-3 with a 6.02 ERA last year and was assigned to Triple-A after clearing waivers in the offseason. He threw three scoreless innings in a scrimmage Sunday, and he said he was motivated by the demotion.
Roenicke, 63, was hired after spring training already started following a shotgun job search to replace Alex Cora, who was let go after Major League Baseball identified him as the ringleader in the Houston Astros’ illegal sign-stealing scheme.
A former outfielder who was drafted five times, played for six teams and has coached in four organizations, including a stint as Brewers manager from 2011-15, Roenicke might have thought he had seen everything over 40 years spent in professional baseball.
And then the pandemic struck.
“It’s pretty much an audible every day,” Roenicke said. “It’s always adjusting. I think anytime that you have experience and you’ve gone through a lot of things, it makes it simpler to make these decisions.”
Rookies to watch
Bobby Dalbec, a corner infielder who hit .239 with 27 homers and 73 RBIs at Double- and Triple-A last season, would have been at the top of the list of players ready to contribute. But he was shut down for a couple of weeks after testing positive for the coronavirus, so any contribution could be delayed.
Jeter Downs, who was acquired in the deal that sent Betts and Price to the Dodgers, split time at Single- and Double-A last season, hitting .276 with 24 homers, 86 RBIs and 24 stolen bases. A shortstop — like the New York Yankees star he was named for — Downs will try to make the team at second base to avoid being blocked by Xander Bogaerts.
In MLB’s new regional 60-game schedule, the Red Sox open at home on Friday, July 24 with a three-game series against the Baltimore Orioles before hosting the New York Mets for two games.
The Red Sox then hit the road for a two-game set against the Mets, three against the Yankees and two in Tampa Bay against the Rays.
Action against American League and National League East Division opponents continues until Sept. 27, when the Red Sox conclude the regular season with a three-game series against the Braves in Atlanta.