Red Sox have a disturbing shortage of viable starting pitchers

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 8: Eduardo Rodriguez of the Boston Red Sox looks on during the second inning against the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on September 8, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts.(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 8: Eduardo Rodriguez of the Boston Red Sox looks on during the second inning against the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on September 8, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts.(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox are struggling to put together a full starting rotation with very few options who are deserving of a spot.

How many starting pitchers do the Boston Red Sox currently have in their rotation? Better question, how many starters do they have whose performance warrants counting them as a viable major league starter? The answer is, not enough.

With five off days between now and the end of August, not counting the remainder of the suspended game they’ll finish against the Kansas City Royals, the Red Sox will attempt to get by with only four starters for the foreseeable future. At least until September when rosters expand.

Figuring out who those four starters are will be a challenge.

David Price will be one of them once he recovers from the cyst on his wrist. He took a step toward his return by playing catch at Fenway Park on Monday but remains without a timetable. If the cyst was to blame for his recent struggles, a healthy Price should provide a significant upgrade to this rotation. Unfortunately, his return remains a mystery.

Andrew Cashner, the one move the Red Sox made to upgrade their pitching staff before the trade deadline, has been jettisoned to the bullpen after going 1-4 with an 8.01 ERA in six starts. Hey, at least now we can say Dave Dombrowski did add a reliever after all.

The Red Sox won’t commit to keeping Brian Johnson in the rotation. Why would they when he’s failed to last more than three innings in his last two spot starts? Wednesday would be Johnson’s next regular turn but the team currently has that spot listed as “Undecided.”

Then there’s Rick Porcello, the former Cy Young winner who enters the day with the worst ERA among qualified major league starters. Porcello has allowed the most earned runs in the majors this season and his 5.67 ERA is well over a run higher than his career rate.

If the Red Sox had appealing alternatives in their system, Porcello would be a candidate to be designated for assignment. He’s been that bad. Porcello should be joining Cashner in the bullpen but they can’t convert every struggling starter into a reliever. It probably wouldn’t go over well with the veteran to demote him from his starting role less than two months from when he hits free agency. He’s still well respected by his teammates and has come through for this team in the past, so this type of drastic change risks more harm than good by upsetting the clubhouse culture. So, Porcello keeps his spot, for now. Just don’t expect him to be back next year.

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Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez are the only reliable options this rotation currently has at their disposal. The term “reliable” should be used very loosely when it relates to a pair of pitchers with an ERA north of 4.30.

You can make a case that E-Rod has been the team’s most consistent starter but he was shelled for five runs in his last outing. Sale was brilliant in his last time out but was blasted for 14 runs over his previous two starts. Calling either of these pitchers the most “consistent” or “reliable” starters on the team doesn’t actually make them consistent or reliable. They are simply the shiniest turds in the toilet bowl.

Manager Alex Cora doesn’t seem inclined to imitate what the Tampa Bay Rays are doing by using an Opener and they really don’t have the bullpen depth to try it anyway.  Eventually, the schedule will dictate that the Red Sox need five starting pitchers. At the moment, they are struggling to find three.

With postseason aspirations quickly slipping away, we’re nearing the point where we need to look ahead to next season by giving more opportunities to young pitchers with some upside. Hold auditions down the stretch for prospects such as Mike Shawaryn, Teddy Stankiewicz or Tanner Houck. Boston won’t have room in the budget to throw money at a high-priced free agent starter so one of those arms may be needed to fill out the rotation next season.

Next. Red Sox Prospect Watch. dark

None of those prospects are proven at the big league level and there’s always the chance they’ll fail. Honestly though, how much worse can they be from the underwhelming options we’ve seen at the back end of this rotation all season? We’re in desperation mode here because right now, there aren’t enough viable starting pitchers on the active roster.