Unexpectedly, Mexican League veteran Hector Velazquez is making a strong case to be the next starter called up to fill a hole in the back of the Boston Red Sox rotation.
With Steven Wright out for the season with an injured left knee, the Red Sox are in need of a stable option to fill out their rotation until the return of David Price. Kyle Kendrick, a major league veteran of 10 years, made two spot starts and allowed 12 earned runs in 8.1 innings as the first candidate. The Red Sox sent Kendrick down after his latest shelling, leaving another opening at the back of their rotation.
The team won’t need a fifth starter until their Saturday afternoon game in Oakland and Velazquez is beginning to look like a real option.
Velazquez cruised through his latest start for the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox, shutting out the Rochester Red Wings over seven innings while striking out three and walking none. He lowered his season ERA to 1.55 and has four strikeouts (20) for every walk allowed (5). In the battle to earn their call-up for the start on Saturday, he seems to be edging out left-hander Brian Johnson as well.
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Johnson did make a single start for the Red Sox this season, collecting the first win of his career against the Blue Jays back in April. He does have the advantage of owning a spot on the team’s 40-man roster but a spot could open up for Velazquez if the team move’s Steven Wright to the 60-day DL. Johnson has 26 strikeouts and 12 walks in 30.2 innings with a 2.64 ERA in Triple-A.
Both pitchers have been stellar all season and present reasonable options to provide a stable start in a situation of desperate need for the Red Sox. In Velazquez, they’ll find a pitcher with exceptional command of the strike zone and an array of pitches that have proven effective enough to keep Triple-A hitters off balance all season.
He throws a two-seam and four-seam fastball, that he can spot on both sides of the plate. Mix in two variations of a low-80s changeup as well as a curveball and slider and he has the stuff to keep hitters off the basepaths through a heavy induction of soft contact. He doesn’t have the type of stuff that will strike opposing batters out at a high rate, but his control has elevated his projected floor.
It’s unreasonable to expect him to carry a 1.55 ERA and 0.793 WHIP into the big leagues since Velazquez hasn’t pitched outside of the Mexican League until this season. That makes it hard to project whether he’ll be truly effective against the highest level of competition, however, his sustained success at Triple-A is worthy of taking a chance. He’s also thrown 246.2 innings over the past calendar year, which the team has taken caution of.
After pitching non-stop between the Mexican League season that began last April, Winter League play in October and November, Spring Training, and the start of the minor league season the team controlled Velazquez’s usage to give him some sort of rest. He only made three starts in the month of April and didn’t exceed 60 pitches in either of them. Since the start of May, however, he’s gone over 90 pitches in both of his starts and has obviously done well.
Whether Velazquez gets the call to make his major league debut on Saturday or not, it’s beginning to look increasingly likely that we’ll see him in a Red Sox uniform at some point this season.