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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