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Making Sense of the Red Sox Rotation Ahead of Opening Day

Tomase: Making sense of latest upheaval in Red Sox' rotation originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

All winter, we thought we knew what the Boston Red Sox' rotation would like. Eduardo Rodriguez on Opening Day, followed by Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Richards, Martin Perez, and Nick Pivetta. Write it in indelible marker.

But a week before the season, someone rolled a grenade into their meeting room and now virtually nothing is certain.

Rodriguez? He's suffering from a dead arm. That bumped Eovaldi up to Opening Day on Thursday vs. the Orioles. Then Richards landed in COVID protocol, which set him back, before he left it almost as quickly.

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Perez will likely start the second game in the second series vs. the Tampa Bay Rays, and Pivetta is fine, but that still leaves an opening for a new fifth starter who for one turn will be a second starter. That could be Matt Andriese, except he's not stretched out, so it should be Tanner Houck ... unless E-Rod is ready.

If you can't follow all of that, it's OK, because it sounds like the Red Sox are feeling their way through, too.

"It will certainly require some creativity and adjustment," manager Alex Cora said when it appeared Richards, at least, might open the season in COVID protocols. "We don't know yet where that will lead."

The Red Sox anticipated some upheaval in the rotation throughout the season, especially coming off of a 60-game campaign that disrupted throwing programs and routines. They didn't necessarily expect that it would hit before Opening Day, especially when improving the performance of the woeful 2020 rotation represented such an offseason imperative.

A call to arms
Red Sox' MLB rank in team batting average (2020)
Red Sox' MLB rank in team ERA (2020)

Things started going south during Rodriguez's last start on March 22. He came out with diminished velocity and was lifted after just two innings. He then skipped his regular bullpen session two days later and was diagnosed with a dead arm.

He threw a 36-pitch bullpen over the weekend that left the team encouraged, but Cora wants him to face hitters before he makes his first appearance since 2019, so the odds appear to be increasing that he opens the season on the injured list.

"It seems like he's running out of time to be with us early," Cora said. "I'm not talking about we're going to lose him for a while, but we have to be careful with him. We'll talk about it today and see where we go with that."

The Red Sox will send Eovaldi to the mound on Thursday vs. Baltimore left-hander John Means. They have an off day Friday before Houck likely starts the second game of the series, even though he was sent to the alternate site two weeks ago. Sunday's start would then go to Pivetta, unless Richards feels ready.

Richards spent a couple of days in COVID protocols after being in close contact with reliever Matt Barnes, who failed a test last week, only to have it effectively declared a false positive Monday, meaning everyone impacted can rejoin the team.

Still, because Richards hasn't made a start since allowing three runs in 5.2 innings vs. the Braves one week ago, the Red Sox don't want to rush him.

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"We'll talk to him today," Cora said. "He was one of the guys that, he did an up and down yesterday, late. So it was actually three up and down innings. We'll talk to him today and there's a chance he'll pitch Sunday or Monday, so we'll decide how he feels. We're not going to push him. He'll let us know how he feels and we'll go from there."

That leaves Perez in line to start on Tuesday vs. the Rays before the rotation flips over and we start this game all over again. Will Rodriguez be ready? Will Richards be ready? Will Houck return to the alternate site?

These are questions the Red Sox expected to answer at some point this season -- just not this soon.

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