Red Sox rotation will take the fifth with Eduardo Rodriguez, Brian Johnson

BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 01: Eduardo Rodriguez
BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 01: Eduardo Rodriguez /

The fifth starter for the Boston Red Sox has been the baseball missing link this season.  Now it may be solved with the rehab of Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson.

If the year was 1957 and not 2017 the quandary over a fifth starter would be a non-issue.  In another baseball age a four-man rotation was the standard and a spot starter – as they were called – would be utilized with a preponderance of rain and schedule-induced double-headers.

This is a new baseball age and certain pitching measurements are becoming an endangered species or even baseball extinct.  The complete game, 300 innings pitched, ungodly pitch counts and so on as pitchers are now considered tender and fragile items to nurture like a first-time parent with a newborn.

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Baseball now has 30 teams when I last checked versus the mere 16 back in that 1957 reference point. The rotations comprise five starters deemed worthy enough to be trusted with beginning a game. Gone are the days when those with questionable ability were consigned to the bullpen until needed. A premium is placed on the bullpen arms necessary to actually perform as an equal or surpass your lower rotation starter. A starter who gives a quality start is even considered special.

The Red Sox fifth starter situation has been in flux all season.  The season ending injury to Steven Wright and the late start by David Price contributed to the attempt to find a warm pitching body. The issue may have been irrelevant at this juncture if Eduardo Rodriguez did not suffer another knee injury.

The latest one to audition is Doug Fister, who will soon be enjoying a retirement from baseball. Fister will be joined by Kyle Kendrick, whose baseball shelf life is reaching expiration at Pawtucket. Mexican League import Hector Velazquez was brought up for a few games and dismissed when Fister joined the parade. Brian Johnson showed some reasonable promise but is now in rehab attempting to resolve an injury.

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How bad is it? The above four pitchers have contributed 68 innings as starters and allowed 50 runs – and that translates to a 6.62 earned run average. The only bright pitching light of the bunch is Johnson, who is 2-0 with a 4.29 ERA. The Red Sox are also 4-0 in Johnson’s starts. The other three it is a dismal 1-6 team record.

The answer from above is not that bad, but the caveat is Johnson, who gave the team a respectable chance of coming away victorious. Johnson pitched 3.2 innings in his latest rehab and allowed three runs, but there is a good news part. All three runs came in the first inning and the rest of the way the lefty allowed one hit before reaching his mandated pitch count.

The issue of who is number five may be solved if Rodriguez recovers. E-Rod could arguably be considered the second most reliable starter this season.  The 24-year-old lefty made 10 starts and the team has a 7-3 record when E-Rod takes the hill. Seven of those starts can be considered quality starts so the bullpen wear and tear is minimized.

Consider that Rodriguez is your fifth starter. In his 60 innings pitched as a starter Rodriguez has a dandy 3.60 ERA. The 3.1 BB/9 may be slightly above my magical 3.0 demarcation line, but the offset is a 9.6 K/9 and a 7.2 H/9. The translation is a 1.15 WHIP. Now the bad news.

Rodriguez has made two rehab starts and his 11.57 ERA certainly gets the level of attention one does not wish to have. In seven innings E-Rod has issued five walks – so being sharp has certainly not arrived. The rust factor is naturally to be considered, but my concern is that Rodriguez is one who needs far too many starts before finding his pitching rhythm.

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I do not expect to see the “Real Rodriguez” until August and if the remaining rotation crew remains on their current productive track this will be a Red Sox rotation of depth and talent. The Red Sox rotation still are the best group in the American League, which is either credit for them or what garbage comprises the other staffs. What I do know is a healthy and productive fifth starter – fifth just being a comfort term – will place Boston firmly in control of the division.  Johnson or Rodriguez would make it solid.