Red Sox

Alex Cora plans to get creative with Red Sox rotation -- good luck with that

Alex Cora plans to get creative with Red Sox rotation -- good luck with that

CLEVELAND -- Alex Cora keeps dropping hints that the Red Sox rotation is about to undergo changes. He suggests that five off days between now and Sept. 2 -- plus a continuation vs. the Royals that will start in the 10th inning -- could generate opportunities to be creative.

I'm all for creativity, but you can't swipe festering fish heads from the cat and turn them into a sublime bouillabaisse. Garbage in, garbage out.

Cora would seem to have the same problem with his rotation. How many ways can a manager rearrange the players most responsible for the Red Sox falling out of playoff contention without yielding the exact same results?

I seriously have zero idea what Cora is even getting at. Right now his two most reliable starters aren't even that reliable, but at least Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez give him a chance.

The former is having a solid year if you judge pitchers on hypotheticals like FIP, but a trash year if you're more inclined to favor results, which include a 6-11 record and 4.41 ERA. The latter is 13-5 with a 4.17 ERA and has probably been the team's most consistent pitcher all season.

After that, there's not a lot to work with. Left-hander David Price is on the IL with a wrist cyst that required a cortisone injected. His return remains a mystery. Cora won't commit to replacement Brian Johnson starting Wednesday on regular rest.

That leaves right-hander Rick Porcello, who owns the worst ERA (5.67) of any of the 71 qualified starters in baseball, and Andrew Cashner, who ranks seventh on the same ignominious list (4.83), thanks to an 8.01 ERA with the Red Sox. Cashner arrived from Baltimore with a solid 3.83 ERA that would rank 33rd between Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard now.

At least it would if he could get anyone out. His regression has been demoralizingly swift.

Things have gotten so bad that in the last few days, Cora has declined to commit to Porcello, Cashner, or Johnson as members of the rotation.

"We'll address it tomorrow and see where we'll go," Cora said after Sunday's 5-4 loss to the Angels. "We're not in a good spot, so we'll sit down tomorrow and see how we map it out -- about where we're going with the rotation. Pitching plans. We'll sit down tomorrow. As a group we'll talk about the off-days and all that stuff. We'll sit down tomorrow the whole staff and see where it takes us."

The looming off days mean Cora could employ a four-man rotation for the rest of the month, especially if he turns over the completion of the suspended game vs. the Royals to his bullpen. It's not even clear whom those four guys would be, beyond Sale and E-Rod, though.

Price? Depends on how quickly he returns. Porcello? In a different year, with a different contract, he'd be DFA'd. Cashner? He's imploding.

Cora sounds disinclined to feature an opener -- his bullpen is over-taxed and under-staffed as it is -- so one possibility would be piggy-bagging Porcello and Cashner on the same day and asking each to go three innings. Until Price returns, that still leaves someone like Johnson or Hector Velazquez or Ryan Weber taking a turn, and those are the pitchers who barely provided three innings a start after Nathan Eovaldi underwent surgery in April.

Oh, and then there's the possibility of shutting down Price and/or Sale so they're fresh for 2020. The Red Sox literally lack the pitching to make this happen, unless they want to field a Triple-A staff in September.

"I'm not planning on doing that," Cora said of shutting down his aces. "That's something that if it comes up, we'll address it."

The question is how. The Red Sox haven't had enough starting pitching all season, and no amount of creativity can fix that.

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How Red Sox coaches pranked Kyle Hart before summoning him to big leagues

How Red Sox coaches pranked Kyle Hart before summoning him to big leagues

Kyle Hart got called into the manager's office at Pawtucket on Tuesday, and the news wasn't good -- Major League Baseball planned to fine him for not wearing a mask.

Manager Billy McMillon and pitching coaches Shawn Haviland and Paul Abbott waited a beat alongside farm director Ben Crockett. Then they broke the real news.

"I was a little worried at first," Hart said, "but then they told me, you can go pay your fine at Fenway Park tomorrow."

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And so it is that Hart, a 19th-round selection in the 2016 draft, will make his debut on Thursday when he starts the finale of a four-game set with the Rays.

It's the culmination of a journey that began in college at Indiana, where Hart spent five years, his career interrupted by Tommy John surgery. The 6-foot-5 lefty has never lit up radar guns or blown away scouts with his pure stuff, but he has gotten results at every stop along the way, posting a 3.13 ERA in 77 minor league appearances.

"My mindset going into tomorrow is the same as it has been my entire career," Hart said. "Every year, I started a level lower than what I thought I should be at. I thought I should be in Greenville, they started me in extended. I thought I should be in Salem, they started me in Greenville, and so on and so forth. This year I thought maybe I had a chance of starting with the big league team and they put me at the alternate site.

"Honestly, I appreciated it, because that's how every year has gone. And every year I've kind of sought out success. I'm comfortable in the position I'm in right now, of being a midseason callup, and kind of fulfilling that need. My mindset is they're giving me an opportunity tomorrow, I need to go pitch to earn another one. That's going to be my mindset as long as I play this game. Hopefully you look back and you've got six, eight, 10 years in this league. Right now I need to go out and earn every single start, opportunity to pitch, whatever it is, every single night."

And guess what? He doesn't owe any fines.

"They told me that I was actually getting fined by Major League Baseball for not wearing my mask. That's kind of a real scenario that's going to happen and probably has happened," Hart said. "Luckily it was just a prank and they were pulling my leg."

Daniel Bard's remarkable comeback story, summed up in one incredible number

USA TODAY Sports photo

Daniel Bard's remarkable comeback story, summed up in one incredible number

Daniel Bard's comeback story for the ages took another improbable step on Tuesday night when he recorded his first save since 2011.

Summoned with two outs in the ninth and runners on the corners of a wild game vs. the Diamondbacks, Bard nailed down Colorado's 12th win by striking out Stephen Vogt looking with a backdoor slider that painted the black.

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The Rockies needed it, too, because Arizona had clawed back from an 8-2 deficit with five runs in the ninth before Bard replaced Jairo Diaz to record the biggest out of the game.

It continued a comeback tale that's almost impossible to believe. Until making Colorado's opening day roster, Bard hadn't thrown a pitch in the big leagues since 2013 with the Red Sox. He hadn't won a game since 2012, and he hadn't saved one since 2011.

He spent the intervening years trying to solve a case of the yips that had transformed him from fireballing future closer to broken and retired. He underwent surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome, pitched in Puerto Rico, attempted comebacks with the Rangers, Mets and Cardinals that saw him walk 46 batters in just 13 minor-league innings, and finally left the game to become a player mentor with the Diamondbacks in 2018 and 2019.

He never gave up on his dream of returning to baseball, however, and the Rockies gave him a shot this spring.

Now 35 years old, he has rewarded them with a 3.00 ERA in eight appearances. And here's his most astonishing statistic: in nine innings pitched, he has recorded 12 strikeouts and ZERO walks. From 46 walks against Single- and Double-A hitters to none in the big leagues. He's one of only three pitchers with at least nine innings pitched and no walks.

Baseball's best story of 2020 just keeps getting better.