Boston Red Sox rookie pitchers have come to the rescue

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JULY 02: Josh Winckowski #73 of the Boston Red Sox throws a pitch during the third inning of a game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 02, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JULY 02: Josh Winckowski #73 of the Boston Red Sox throws a pitch during the third inning of a game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 02, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

Red Sox pitching prospects are making their mark this season

Brayan Bello will make his highly anticipated major league debut this week, joining a growing list of Boston Red Sox pitching prospects who have stabilized a starting rotation that has been decimated by a rash of injuries.

Tuesday’s starter Nick Pivetta is the last man standing from the starting rotation that opened the season for the Red Sox. Michael Wacha was scratched from his last start due to a “heavy arm” that has been worn out by fatigue. Nathan Eovaldi and Rich Hill are on the injured list, along with Garrett Whitlock, who will be returning to the bullpen once he’s activated.

That’s without even factoring in that Chris Sale, who is nearing the end of a rehab assignment, hasn’t pitched for the Red Sox this season.

Boston’s rotation depth has been tested but they have met this challenge admirably with several rookies stepping up to fill the void.

Josh Winckowski has made the greatest impact, going 3-2 with a 3.12 ERA over five starts. He took a tough-luck loss in his most recent outing when he allowed only one earned run over six innings. Aside from the outcome, this was his best start of the season, as he struck out a season-high six batters while only walking one. Winckowski has tossed 5+ innings while allowing two runs or fewer in each of his last four starts.

Kutter Crawford‘s 5.04 ERA is inflated by a few messy relief outings earlier this season but he’s flashed some potential as a starter. Crawford didn’t technically start on Monday, with Austin Davis handling the first two innings as an opener, but he delivered 5 1/3 shutout innings as the bulk reliever in a win over the Tampa Bay Rays. Crawford struck out eight while only walking one and allowing two hits. He’s allowed only four earned runs in 14 1/3 innings over his last three appearances, including two starts.

Connor Seabold had a rough introduction in his season debut, getting shelled for seven runs by the Toronto Blue Jays. He was much better in his next opportunity, allowing only one run over four innings against the Chicago Cubs. Seabold has shown an impressive ability to miss bats with a 37.0 Whiff% through two starts.

The Red Sox weren’t expecting to count on meaningful innings from this trio of rookie pitchers but they’ve already combined for nine starts. There are a few clunkers mixed in but overall, this group has pitched about as well as can be expected from spot starters who had little to no major league experience entering this season.

Now enters Bello, who has the most upside of any of these rookies. The right-hander works with a fastball that sits in the 95-97 mph range, per Sox Prospects. His four-seam fastball tops out in the upper-90s. The two-seamer sits in the lower range of his fastball velocity but it has hard sinking action. His changeup is a potentially plus pitch that he primarily uses against left-handed hitters since it fades away from them. Bello also throws a slider that he can manipulate to move at different angles.

MLB Pipeline ranks Bello as the No. 75 prospect in baseball. He’s No. 4 in the Red Sox system and their top pitching prospect. Winckowski (13), Seabold (14) and Crawford (24) are all ranked among the top-30 Red Sox prospects.

Bello dominated Double-A, producing a 1.60 ERA and 11.2 K/9 in six starts to earn a promotion to Triple-A. He owns a 2.81 ERA and 12.6 K/9 in nine appearances in Worcester (eight starts).

Bello has skyrocketed through the system this year. While his dominance in the minors has us eagerly anticipating what he can do at the major league level, the Red Sox would have preferred to give him more seasoning in Triple-A to work on his fastball command and sharpen his secondary pitches. Bello isn’t a finished product yet but the Red Sox didn’t have any other options available to start on Wednesday.

This season has shown us the importance of rotation depth. The Red Sox added some pitching with short-term, low-risk signings but it still wasn’t enough. Being able to dip into their minor league system to find pitchers who can eat some innings to prevent the bullpen from burning out while generally keeping the team in the game has saved the season. Many teams would have unraveled after losing nearly their entire starting rotation but Boston has weathered the storm while climbing into the top Wild Card spot.

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