Red Sox: Drew Pomeranz’s struggles highlight need for starting pitching

Jun 6, 2017; Bronx, NY, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz (31) reacts against the New York Yankees during the third inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 6, 2017; Bronx, NY, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz (31) reacts against the New York Yankees during the third inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports /

The left-handed starter lasted just 4.1 innings in the Red Sox’ 8-3 loss Sunday.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Drew Pomeranz failed to get out of the fifth inning again in Sunday’s loss to the Detroit Tigers. It was the Red Sox lefty’s sixth start in which he eclipsed less than five full innings. He has just 12 starts on the season.

Pomeranz had posted a 3-0 record with 2.00 earned runs in his previous three starts, flashing the potential that made him such a highly coveted trade candidate last July. That potential has been overshadowed by his inescapable struggles since arriving in Boston via trade from the San Diego Padres. The Red Sox traded for a pitcher that was sixth in the majors in ERA on July 19, 2016, and received a pitcher that has averaged five flat innings per start since July 20 of that year.

In that same span of time, 42 other pitchers have made a minimum of 25 starts.  Of that group, only Pomeranz has failed to average more than five innings per start.

His problems have extended well beyond his inability to pitch into the latter innings as well. Since joining the Red Sox, he has a 4.53 ERA, 4.36 FIP, and a 1.395 WHIP.  While his opposing slash line of .263/.324/.457 is not horrendous, it is far from reliable as far as starting pitching goes.

All of which puts the Red Sox in a difficult position. Pomeranz assumes the fourth spot in the rotation while Eduardo Rodriguez recovers from a knee injury and will slide down to fifth upon Rodriguez’s reinstatement from the disabled list. In Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, and Rodriguez, the club has a solid stable of starting pitching, but Pomeranz has not done enough to support his position at the end of the rotation.

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Quite simply, he’s been too ineffective over a large enough sample to warrant further consideration as a reliable starter.

That doesn’t mean the Red Sox won’t continue to trot him out every fifth day. Aside from Brian Johnson who is filling in for Rodriguez at the moment, they don’t have any other depth at the position. Kyle Kendrick and Hector Velazquez tried out but struggled mightily. Henry Owens is still developing at Triple-A but has proven control issues that would create further complications.

There’s always the chance that he finally figures it out in Boston and ends up becoming the pitcher the team traded for. But then again, there’s still the chance that David Ortiz comes out of retirement and bats cleanup for the rest of the season.

His sample size of mediocrity in Boston grows larger than his sample of success in San Diego by the start. At some point, the club has to come to terms with what Pomeranz is. Based on the roster they have and the championship aspirations they hold, he should be put in the bullpen sooner than later.

Reports surfaced Sunday indicating that the Red Sox were scouting Kansas City Royals left-handed reliever Mike Minor. He would be a valuable addition to a bullpen that could use some depth, but shouldn’t be the team’s main focus. Right now, priority number one needs to be finding a starter to shore up the rotation.

Moving Pomeranz to the ‘pen would also alleviate the need for a left-handed reliever. He isn’t a stranger to the role either, with a 2.10 career ERA and 68 strikeouts in 64.1 relief innings.

The Red Sox already have lefties Robby Scott, who has been relied upon for almost all high-leverage lefty-on-lefty situations, and Fernando Abad in the bullpen. Abad hasn’t seen nearly as many important outings, indicating a potential lack of trust. If they can stomach sending Pomeranz out to the mound as a starter, they can certainly trust him to handle a middle inning relief role.

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As far as potential starters that would be available go, the market isn’t necessarily deep. According to MLB Trade Rumors, these are the top-five starting pitching candidates likely to be available at the deadline.

  1. Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox
  2. Jason Vargas, Kansas City Royals
  3. Ian Kennedy, Kansas City Royals,
  4. Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay Rays
  5. Jeremy Hellickson, Philadelphia Phillies

Quintana is the highest profile of the listed names and comes with years of team control, but will also cost multiple top-prospects which Red Sox fans and management are unlikely to be able to stomach.

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It’s still too early to start throwing out trade predictions, but one thing we should be certain of is the Red Sox’ need for a stable starting pitcher at the back of the rotation. It took another 4.1 inning effort on Sunday night from Drew Pomeranz to remind us of that.