The Battle for #5

The Boston Red Sox’s rotation is one of the best in the AL entering 2018. Boasting 2 former Cy Young winners (David Price and Rick Porcello) and 1 perennial Cy Young finalist (Chris Sale, who somehow still hasn’t won one yet), expectations are high for this particular batch of arms. And while 1-4 in the rotation are pretty much set in stone, the 5th starter spot is still up in the air. Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright are expected to ultimately compete for it, but both will enter the season on DL, leaving 3 guys in particular to battle it out for that final spot in the rotation come game #5 vs. the Miami Marlins on April 2nd.

Roenis Elias has had a very good Spring down in Ft. Myers, Florida so far, posting an ERA of exactly 0.00 over 6 IP. Most of those innings, however, have come in a reliever’s role. Of his 4 appearances, only one has seen him on the mound to start the game, leading me to believe that, while he’s seen time as a starter for Seattle (15-20 with a 3.97 ERA in 49 starts from 2014-2015), the Sox see him as more of a bullpen arm than anything else.

Hector Velazquez, on the other hand, has started in all 3 of his appearances this Spring. He logged a very good 2.92 ERA over 8 games (3 starts) with the Sox in 2017, his only season as a pro in the United States (he’s an import from Mexico), but he’s had a rough go of it so far in Spring Training. Over 7.1 IP, he’s allowed an opponents’ BA of .323, resulting in a 4.91 ERA. Velazquez is a crafty pitcher. He uses all of his pitches to good effect, and the Red Sox organization thinks highly of him. His lack of big league experience at 29-years old, however, could be a concern, but Alex Cora seems intent on giving him a fair shot.

Out of the 3 contenders, Brian Johnson seems the most likely candidate to win the job. While he’s had tumultuous career up to this point (4.88 ERA in 31.1 IP over 2 years), he has stood out in Florida with an excellent Spring thus far. Allowing just a .231 opponents’ BA, Johnson has put up a 0 in the score column in 6 of his 7 IP. The one inning in which he did allow a run (3 vs. the Rays on Thursday) was followed up by an additional 2 strong, scoreless frames in which he looked very composed and in control. Perhaps the biggest factor, though, is that Johnson out of options, meaning he either makes the team or departs from the organization entirely. All things considered, my best guess is that Johnson gets the call from Alex Cora come April 2nd.

In Boston’s favor is an unusual start to their 2018 schedule. They could theoretically need their 5th starter only 3 times throughout the entire first month of the season, at which time either Rodriguez or Wright (or possibly both) could be back to full health. Those 3 starts, however, will be very important, considering the Sox share a division with the very talented Yankees, so Cora will want to send out the best possible option, meaning that this race is definitely something to keep an eye on leading up to Opening Day.

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