BOSTON -- Drew Pomeranz is the Red Sox Game 2 starter in the American League Division Series, as expected, opposite the Astros’ Dallas Keuchel. Beyond that, there’s a bit of mystery.
A lot seems to hinge on a question of whether or not to start Doug Fister, who doesn’t appear to be a candidate to be on the roster as a reliever, while Eduardo Rodriguez and Rick Porcello are.
Starts in Games 3 and 4 are expected to be made by at least one, and maybe two, of those three.
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“Fister would probably be the one that would not be [considered for both the ‘pen and rotation],” manager John Farrell said Tuesday. “The other two, potentially.”
Considering stature alone, it’d be hard to imagine Porcello moving to the bullpen, leaving Rodriguez as perhaps the best candidate for a relief job in the Sox’ eyes.
"You do like the fact of a veteran presence," Farrell said. "Guys that have been in a postseason, guys who seemingly will pitch with more emotional control, or control the running game, or executing a pitch in a key moment, that has maybe a tendency to shine through a little more.”
But maybe the Sox will ignore stature entirely with Porcello because of his propensity for home runs.
Farrell’s dropping hints that Fister will wind up with a start. Using Rodriguez in Game 3 would mean left-handers in three consecutive games. Would that be an issue?
“No, it wouldn't give pause, it wouldn't prevent us from doing anything,” Farrell said. “But again, I think what I tried to explain earlier is [it’s a matter of], what is the best combination of our pitching staff? And how does that play out, and putting certain guys in certain roles? It wouldn't be a shock to see a guy that's been in our rotation finding his way into our bullpen.”
Well, if a starter’s in the bullpen, that would seem to guarantee Fister is in the rotation, based on what Farrell explained Tuesday.
The hesitation to use Fister in relief is understandable. Fister’s a ground-ball pitcher who has had trouble in his first innings of work in his time with the Sox. The first batter he faces carrying a .500 on-base percentage against him this year. In his first inning of work overall, it’s .375.
But the Sox definitely want length in the bullpen, and Fister has relief experience not only this year, but in the past. Fister’s 33 innings in the ‘pen between the postseason and regular season outdo Rick Porcello’s 10 and Eduardo Rodriguez’s one. The matter of adjustment shouldn’t be overlooked.
Rodriguez has high upside with strikeouts. But he also has reverse splits, doing worse against lefties (.808 OPS) than righties (.718 OPS). The Astros are a righty heavy lineup. But, Rodriguez shouldn’t be looked at as a force to dominate lefties.
Rodriguez is also relatively inexperienced, and has been through a lot with his knees, affecting both his mechanics and his confidence in the past. How well would he handle a change?
The Astros are particularly familiar with Fister because he threw 180 1/3 innings for them last year. Granted, he’s changed significantly since then -- but the Astros have access to plenty of video, and also faced him Friday at Fenway Park in a 3-2 Sox loss.
“I think it’s definitely a difference,” Fister said Tuesday of his pitching now vs. 2016. “Whether it’s the movement on the ball, the deception getting back across the body, throwing it from the first-base side of the rubber. There’s a lot of different things. They just saw us last week, they saw me last week, so they have seen me.
“Now it just comes down to execution. I know what they do, I know what they do. It’s like facing [Alex] Bregman. I know he hits the ball inside, and that’s what I gave him for a home run [Friday]. But if I execute my pitch [further inside], I got better luck there.”
Fister said he's fine in whatever role he's asked to do.
With Porcello, the biggest scare is the home run. His rate of 1.68 long balls allowed per nine innings was the fifth-highest in the major. The Astros mash. That would be the greatest reason to get Porcello out of the rotation.
Fister and Porcello both struck out about eight batters per nine this season. Fister walked more (3.79 per nine vs. 2.12) and allowed considerably fewer homers, .90 per nine.
Farrell’s trying to take a holistic approach to his pitching staff. The Sox met Tuesday morning to work through more of the roster, and they need to also deliver the news to individual players.
“The way guys have pitched recently,” the manager said. “The composition of our bullpen, how it supports the entire pitching staff, not just looking at it in two separate segments: rotation and bullpen. I think there’s got to be some complement there. The four games that we talked about during the series [to end the regular season], that gives a little bit of first-hand knowledge and recent knowledge and how we might use guys to the best of our abilities or their abilities to take advantage of that.”
What about ordering, or bringing back Chris Sale on short rest?
Sale could go on three days rest if needed in Game 4 at Fenway Park, but that choice would be “solely dependent” on what happens in Game 1, Farrell said.
As for Game 3?
“There are two scenarios in place that will be revealed at the appropriate time and that means probably more internal discussion is needed here,” Farrell said. “I don't think Game 3 starter is going to hinge upon winning or losing Games 1 or 2.”