The Red Sox’ rotation will likely be down several starters to begin the season, as MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo writes that each of Garrett Whitlock, Brayan Bello and James Paxton are expected to begin the season on the injured list. Paxton had already been trending in this direction, but Whitlock and Bello now join him in missing at least the beginning of the 2023 season. Cotillo notes that Whitlock, who got a late start while recovering from hip surgery is expected to be ready sometime in mid-April. Bello, who battled forearm tightness early in camp, should follow shortly thereafter. Paxton isn’t expected to return until May at the earliest.
The Red Sox announced this week that offseason signee Corey Kluber would get the nod on Opening Day. Left-hander Chris Sale, eyeing for a rebound campaign after a dreadful run of injuries in recent seasons, is slated to start the second game of the season. Righties Nick Pivetta, Tanner Houck and likely Kutter Crawford should round out the quintet to begin the year.
With Whitlock and Bello both expected to return by the end of the season’s first month, though, the rotation will likely be reconfigured early in the regular season. Crawford, who struggled to a 5.47 ERA in 77 2/3 frames last season, figures to be the odd man out once either Whitlock or Bello is able to reclaim a spot in the starting staff. In that case, Crawford would figure to serve as optionable rotation depth alongside Josh Winckowski.
Assuming everyone remains healthy by the time both Whitlock and Bello are ready to return, the Sox will be faced with a decision between Houck and Pivetta for the final rotation spot. Pivetta made a league-leading 33 starts last season and paced the team with 179 2/3 innings pitched. That impressive volume came with mediocre results, however, as the right-hander posted a slightly below-average 4.56 ERA during the 2022 campaign.
Houck, meanwhile, has been a successful pitcher both as a starter (3.22 ERA in 92 1/3 innings) and a reliever (2.68 ERA in 53 2/3 innings) to this point in his career. The former first-rounder has long been seen as a potential rotation piece at Fenway, but the Red Sox were noncommittal early in the offseason when asked about his role. Houck also had back surgery late last season and ended the year on the injured list after making 28 of his 32 appearances as a reliever. It’s easy to see why the Sox would be intrigued by the idea of Houck upping his workload this year and even getting some more run in the starting staff, but he’s coming off a 60-inning season that ended in back surgery; a jump to a full starter’s workload would be something of a surprise.
Of course, this needn’t be a strict either-or proposition. Situations like this tend to work themselves out, often as injuries pop up elsewhere on a pitching staff. Getting Houck some early rotation work and perhaps moving him to a multi-inning relief/sixth starter role once everyone is healthy would be a good means of managing his workload as he ramps up from last year’s 60 innings.
Even if the plan is to ride Houck as a starter as long as possible, that doesn’t mean Pivetta will be decidedly forced out of the rotation. Given that each of Sale, Whitlock, Bello, Houck, Kluber and especially Paxton have some notable injuries within the past few seasons, it’s likely the Sox will need to shuffle through quite a few starters. All six of their top options figure to spend ample time in the rotation this summer, and they’ll also have depth options like Crawford, Winckowski, Brandon Walter, Chris Murphy and Bryan Mata as candidates for rotation work down in the minors.