Due to an injury from earlier this spring, Eduardo Rodriguez has yet to pitch in a game. Therefore, it is unlikely he will be able to build his arm and pitch count up in time to be ready to make his first, or even second, turn in the rotation once the season starts. That means, in addition to the fifth spot in the rotation, the role of filling in for Rodriguez until he is healthy enough to return is also available.
The State of the Competition
Elias made his first start of the spring this week, pitching two scoreless innings and registering two strikeouts. However, he also gave up four hits. It remains unclear what the Red Sox intend to do with Elias. As I wrote about earlier this week, he has the potential to be a very effective reliever, which is something the organization is considering as well, but he also happens to have the best track record as a major league starter of any of the aforementioned candidates.
In addition to having a solid debut, Elias received some coaching tips from Pedro Martinez the day after his start. Martinez raved about Elias after their session, which should tell you something about how good Elias can be, as Pedro is not out there giving unsolicited praise for every Red Sox pitcher and never has.
Wright also pitched this week, firing four scoreless innings in a start against Toronto. He was locating everything during the start, throwing his knuckleball for strikes with great consistency and he demonstrated how effective he can be when he is on. Overall, Wright has pitched seven innings this spring and has a 2.57 ERA. He has given up eight hits, two walks, and struck out two batters. Opponents are hitting .286 off him.
Owens took the biggest step back this week, struggling mightily in Saturday’s start against the Marlins. It appears many of his struggles during the start were related to him pitching like he had already won a spot in the rotation. With runners on base, Owens was mixing in his pitches in order to get in the work, rather than executing the best pitch for that particular situation. Owens has to be careful with that and he admitted as much in his post-game comments. He is not David Price. Price has earned the right to use Spring Training to get work in and command over all of his pitches, but Owens has not. Owens has to be concerned about the results at this point in his career and at this point in the competition.
With Rodriguez’s injury, Kelly, who was already a favorite to win the final spot in the rotation, will certainly open the season as one of the Red Sox five starters. With that said, he did make his second start of the spring this week, which he got through just fine. Overall, Kelly has pitched 4.1 innings and has a 2.08 ERA. He has allowed eight baserunners in his four innings of work, which is concerning, but has also struck out three batters. Opponents are hitting .278 off him this spring.
As of today, assuming Rodriguez’s absence, the starting rotation on Opening Day is likely to be as follows:
The Red Sox like Kelly and how he finished last season going 8-0 over his final nine starts. Any small chance of him not making the starting rotation was thrown out the door when Rodriguez got hurt. As for who will fill Rodriguez’s spot in his absence, the favorite at this point is Wright. Although I do not believe this is a good reason to keep someone around, especially if you think there is someone better on your 40-man roster, Wright is out of minor league options, which all but guarantees he will be in a different uniform next season if the Red Sox do not give him a spot on their 25-man roster. That is going to affect their decision-making process and means he has an edge over his competition. For him to lose this spot, he will have to be significantly out-pitched and that has not happened so far; hence, his projected position within the rotation.
Next: Second LHP in Bullpen