(Photo courtesy of News-press.com) “Relief pitcher Kenley Jansen during spring training.”
To any baseball fan, the calendar flipping from January to February can only mean one thing: the start of a new season as MLB teams begins reporting to spring training in sunny Florida and Arizona.
The Boston Red Sox officially began their spring training workouts on February 15th, with pitchers and catchers reporting to the Fenway South complex in Fort Myers, FL. While the Red Sox entered spring training with many question marks, the two biggest were their middle infield and pitching rotation.
After shortstop Xander Bogaerts signed a contract with the San Diego Padres in December 2022, the suggested plan was to move second baseman Trevor Story back to short which was the position he played for his entire career before joining the Red Sox in 2022. Center fielder Kiké Hernández was set to play second base, as he can play any position.
In early January, the team announced that Story had undergone surgery on his elbow, sidelining him until at least July. Hernández is now expected to be the everyday shortstop, with second base being covered by Christian Arroyo and new acquisition Adalberto Mondesi. Like Story, Mondesi will likely begin the year on the injured list, as he is recovering from ACL surgery.
There is no doubt that the biggest question facing this Red Sox team is its starting pitching. Three of the team’s five starters (Nate Eovaldi, Rich Hill and Michael Wacha) from 2022 are gone. Filling their spots are Chris Sale, James Paxton and Corey Kluber.
Sale, Paxton and Kluber are all injury prone.
Sale hasn’t pitched a full season since 2018. In late August of 2019, Sale went on the injured list with elbow inflammation. The left-hander did not pitch for the final six weeks of the season.
Sale missed the entirety of the 2020 season recovering from a torn UCL, which necessitated Tommy John surgery. He returned to the Red Sox in August of 2021, making his first start nearly two years to the day since he had last appeared in a Major League ballpark. Sale remained healthy for the remainder of 2021, making two starts in the postseason.
When Sale reported for spring training in 2022, he arrived with a fractured rib, sidelining him until July. In his second start back, Sale was hit on the pinky, fracturing his finger. A month later, he broke his wrist in a bike accident, ending any hopes for a return in 2022.
Sale is aware of the significance of being fully healthy at spring training for the first time since 2019.
“I took a long time to get here. It took a lot of work not only by myself but a lot of people around me and I’m just very appreciative of them and the opportunity I have,” said Sale.
Paxton signed with the Red Sox in November 2021. At the time, he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery with the expectation that he would return to the team in August like Sale did the year before.
During his recovery, Paxton experienced elbow soreness and did not begin throwing until early August. In his first rehab start, Paxton faced just two batters before leaving the game with a lateral strain, ending his season.
While Corey Kluber had a healthy 2022 with the Tampa Bay Rays, he made only eight starts between 2019-20 and just 16 starts in 2021.
While all three of these pitchers appear to be healthy going into 2023, they are all over the age of 33.
The fourth rotation spot will likely go to pitcher Garrett Whitlock.
Pitchers Tanner Houck, Brayan Bello and Nick Pivetta are the final three candidates for a rotation spot.
Houck bounced back and forth between starting and relieving in 2022, and his name had also been floating around in trade rumors throughout the offseason. His season was cut short due to a back injury which required surgery in September.
Bello was called up from Triple-A Worcester in July. While he struggled at first, he put up great numbers in September with a 2.59 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 31.1 innings pitched. Manager Alex Cora announced on Friday morning that Bello was not going to begin throwing until Monday due to forearm soreness.
Pivetta has been a member of the Red Sox since 2020. In 2021 and 2022, he was the only pitcher who didn’t miss a single scheduled start; it seems realistic that he could be asked to come out of the bullpen (at least initially).
No matter how things shake out in terms of the rotation, Sale is excited for the 2023 Red Sox. As he stated:
“We’re here to make some noise. Say what you want but I like where we’re at.”