In 2015, Eduardo Rodriguez excited Sox Nation when he debuted in Texas, shutting down the Ranger lineup to the tune of 0 runs over 7.2 innings. In fact, the well-framed lefty allowed only a single run throughout his first 24 major league innings.
However, Eduardo would dazzle one start, and flub the next. Word quickly spread throughout the league that the youngster was tipping pitches. Despite finishing the year 10-6, it’s been a downward trend since:
2016-17: 9-14 / 4.42 ERA / 5.1 inn. per start / 1.28 WHIP / 2.7 K:BB ratio
During that time, the well framed lefty has partially dislocated his right knee three times, finally resulting in offseason surgery two months ago. Being just 24, the hope is that he can recover, and have a fulfilling career as a Sox starter. But on the other end of the spectrum, can a consistently problematic knee injury inhibit the effectiveness of the Venezuelan pitcher? Or, even worse, shorten his career?
Given a six month timetable for recovery, Rodriguez could mathematically be ready to go in April, but there’s almost no chance of that happening. With pitchers set to report to the Grapefruit League in just over five weeks, he’s still got a road of rehabilitation ahead of him, and there’s absolutely no sense in rushing the young talent through the process, given Boston’s annual playoff aspirations. Right now, the focus should be on strengthening his knee, and if that means a May or June debut for the southpaw, so be it; a fourth dislocation on a surgically repaired knee could spell disaster. It’ll behoove of the Sox to err on the side of caution.
The frustration is mounting, as Eduardo is a non stop question mark. It’s impossible to predict when he’ll be available, healthy, or productive. That leaves the Sox in a difficult situation, as they’ll have to go into the spring with a competition for the number five spot in the rotation, barring an offseason acquisition.
Last spring, some fans were surprised (myself included) as to why Kyle Kendrick was optioned to AAA despite dominating his exhibition starts. When he finally was called up due to injuries, Kendrick posted an 0-2 record with an ERA approaching 13.00. Competition can be fun, but not when you’re working out rotational problems in a division that features Stanton, Judge, Sanchez, Machado, Davis, Mancini, and Donaldson.
The obvious choices to inherit the back end of the rotation are Brian Johnson, Steven Wright, and Hector Velazquez. It’s hard not to root for Johnson, as anyone who’s suffered from an anxiety disorder can attest that simple tasks can seem overwhelming, and this young man overcame a lot to be able to stand on Fenway’s pitching mound, and toss Boston’s only complete game shutout of 2017. Out of options, Johnson is a logical candidate to make the roster out of camp, but he’d then comprise a rotation of four left handed starters.
As far as Steven Wright goes, he isn’t exactly high on anyone’s list right now. According to reports, he was arrested after a verbal argument, then charged with domestic assault. Alex Little, Wright’s attorney said the following: “Although he said things he deeply regrets, he did not raise his hand at anyone during the incident, and the situation was purely emotional.”
Rightfully so, the league takes domestic assault seriously. Wright could be facing suspension, and even if he isn’t, his 2017 was incredibly unattractive and it’s hard to predict what the knuckleballer can offer.
What about Hector Velazquez? His MLB debut was rough, although it was in an emergency spot start role. In his seven outings following, spanning from 6/14 – 10/01, the Mexican league free agent signee went 3-0, allowing only two earned over 19.2 IP.
Starting pitching depth is crucial in baseball. As constituted, the Wright-Johnson-Hector connection will form Boston’s fifth spot, long relief role, and serve as an extra arm in Pawtucket.
So all things considered, why not give Jalen Beeks a shot?
Beeks split time between Portland and Pawtucket in 2017, has a fastball that touches 96, can be cut, two seamed, and he also offers a changeup and swooping curveball. Although he’s small by starting pitching standards at 5’11” & 180, the Arkansas native has pitched strictly out of the rotation throughout his minor league career. Jalen was named the 2017 Red Sox minor league pitcher of the year, proving his talent and effectiveness; what remains to be seen is how that will translate to the major league level.
Could the 24 year old E-Rod yield his spot in the rotation to a 24 year old Jalen Beeks? It’s not likely, but baseball isn’t built on likelihoods. 2016 was filled with surprise roster decisions and performances, ranging from the release of Pablo, to Austin Maddox’s 0.52 ERA. So while the front office homes in on a potential JDM contract, it appears the uncertainty clouding the back end of the rotation will be worked out internally.