How the Red Sox rotation is lining up to open the 2022 season

Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Boston Red Sox rotation is beginning to take shape

Opening Day is just over two weeks away and we’re starting to get a clear picture of how the Boston Red Sox pitching staff will line up for their first turn through the rotation.

Alex Cora confirmed that Nathan Eovaldi will be his Opening Day starter in the Bronx on April 7. The Red Sox manager is typically coy with his plans but this decision was obvious following the news that Chris Sale wouldn’t be ready to begin the season as he recovers from a stress fracture in his right rib cage.

Nasty Nate earned the honor of leading the rotation with a career year in which he finished fourth on the AL Cy Young ballot. Eovaldi was solid against the Yankees last season, going 2-2 with a 3.71 ERA in six starts. He owned a 2.25 ERA over three starts in Yankee Stadium, proving he won’t shy away from the challenge of performing in enemy territory against the club’s greatest rival.

Nick Pivetta is expected to start the second game of the series in New York. The right-hander struggled with inconsistency last year but he flashed a high ceiling with several outstanding performances. He would slot lower in the rotation if the Red Sox pitching staff were fully healthy but he’s a worthy No. 2 when he’s at the top of his game.

Pivetta tossed three perfect innings with five strikeouts in his spring training debut and appears poised to open the season strong.

Cora named Tanner Houck a member of his rotation earlier this week, according to MassLive’s Chris Cotillo. As the third pitcher to lock up a rotation spot this spring, we can project Houck to finish the series against the Yankees.

It will be interesting to see if the Red Sox take the training wheels off by allowing Houck to stay on the mound for more than a few innings. Cora has shied away from letting Houck pitch deep into games based on a small sample size of evidence that he struggles when facing hitters for a third time through the order. If he’s going to be Boston’s No. 3 starter, Houck needs to be capable of providing at least five innings on a regular basis.

Cora revealed today that Michael Wacha will start the first game of the series in Detroit, according to WEEI’s Rob Bradford. Wacha hasn’t lived up to the potential he showed early in his career when he was an emerging ace for the St. Louis Cardinals but there is hope for him bouncing back from the poor results from the last few seasons. Wacha showed improvement late last season by leaning more on his cutter, surrendering two runs or fewer in six of his final seven regular season starts.

The final Red Sox rotation spot remains undecided

The Red Sox have the day off after opening the season against the Yankees on a Thursday, an odd scheduling quirk that could allow them to bring Eovaldi back for the second game in Detroit. Boston will need a fifth starter to wrap up the series against the Tigers but with another off day leading into the home opener on April 15, Cora has some flexibility with managing his pitching staff at the end of the road trip.

Garrett Whitlock and Rich Hill are battling for the final rotation spot. Whitlock would ideally stay in the bullpen where he was invaluable last season as the team’s best reliever. Boston bolstered their bullpen during the offseason but they didn’t add a late-inning, high-leverage arm. Matt Barnes should get an opportunity to prove last year’s late-season collapse is behind him but even if he returns to the closer role, the Red Sox still need Whitlock to solidify the bridge to the ninth inning. Whitlock is arguably the best option to take over the closer role if Barnes falters again.

That might give Hill an edge in the competition for the final rotation spot but the 42-year-old isn’t a sure bet. He continues to defy Father Time with his solid production over the last several years but the Red Sox need to be cautious with his workload given Hill’s age and injury history.

With the off day following that road trip, Cora can lean heavily on his bullpen during the final game in Detroit, especially if Eovaldi pitches deep into his outing the day before. Boston doesn’t necessarily need to make it a bullpen game but they don’t need to push their starter for more than a few innings.

Boston’s top of the rotation is strong but there are plenty of question marks that follow. However, we should note that the rotation they open the season with isn’t the one they plan to end the year with. Sale could return sometime in May and James Paxton should be ready in the second half of the season.

The Red Sox rotation is made up primarily of pitchers with a low floor but many of these pitchers also have high ceilings. They have built enviable depth and they have the assets to acquire more arms at the trade deadline if they need to. They don’t need all of these pitchers to pan out, just enough to scrap together enough innings to navigate the schedule until their staff is back at full strength.

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