The news that David Price is headed to the injured list with elbow tendinitis stresses the Red Sox rotation at the exact moment it seems to be coming together, but the bigger issues it presents are long-term.
Price hasn't experienced a hint of arm trouble since last May, when he was scratched against the Yankees with carpal tunnel syndrome. He returned to make 30 starts and then basically carried the Red Sox through the ALCS and World Series, where he should've been MVP.
He has been Boston's best pitcher early this season, his 1-2 record and 3.75 ERA masking better peripherals that include a career-best 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings.
He has pitched at least six innings in five of his six starts, but more importantly, he has taken the place of ace Chris Sale, who finally earned his first win of the season on Friday. With Sale struggling to find his way, Price naturally stepped into the leadership role atop the rotation, giving the Red Sox not just innings, but a chance to win when they weren't getting either from their starters.
In the short term, the team's depth will be severely tested. Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi recently underwent elbow surgery that should shelve him into June. Fellow right-hander Hector Velazquez is already in the rotation and left-hander Brian Johnson remains sidelined by elbow inflammation. To replace Price, they summoned right-hander Ryan Weber, formerly of the Braves, Mariners, and Rays, who was 1-1 with a 5.04 ERA at Triple-A Pawtucket.
Depending on the severity of Price's injury, Weber doesn't sound like a long-term solution, and the upper ranks of the minors are thin. Left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez impressed in a relief outing against the Tigers as the 26th man for a doubleheader on April 23, striking out four in 4.1 shutout innings. Unfortunately, he then returned to Double-A Portland and didn't even last an inning, walking three and allowing five runs.
The best prospect at Triple A is right-hander Mike Shawaryn, who last threw on Friday. He's 1-2 with a 2.72 ERA in six starts, but isn't overpowering.
The bigger question isn't how they navigate the next couple of weeks. It's what this injury means for Price. He's only two years removed from the most serious injury of his career, a sore elbow that shut him down during spring training. A pair of renowned orthopedic surgeons prescribed rest and rehabilitation, but added that if Price were younger, they probably would've recommended Tommy John surgery.
That injury marked a clear line of demarcation in Price's relationship to Boston. Injured athletes are miserable ones, and Price spent that year in a constant state of agitation, culminating in his ill-advised ambush of Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley on the team charter.
It's too soon to know how serious this one is, though it's worth noting it wasn't on anyone's radar until the Red Sox placed him on the IL on Monday, one day before his scheduled start in Baltimore.
Price turns 34 in August and has thrown over 2,000 innings, including playoffs. That's a lot of wear and tear for someone with creeping elbow issues, which is why this injury bears watching.
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