When your most competitive pitch of the afternoon comes from the 9-year-old son of a franchise icon, it means your home opener belongs in the compost bin.
Such was the case on Friday at Fenway Park, where young Lee Vaughn pumped a high fastball into the mitt of Kevin Plawecki as part of the ceremonial first pitch alongside his father, Mo. That turned out to be the last pitching highlight of the day for a Red Sox staff that we've long feared could end up sporting the modifier of "beleaguered."
The nightmare scenario for this season is that the Red Sox simply do not pitch. They might hit a ton and field OK, but there are probably better World Series slogans than, "Eovaldi and Whitlock and pass the hemlock."
Friday's home opener was over early and augured a potentially long summer after an 8-4 loss to the Twins. Starter Nick Pivetta lasted just two innings, allowing a moonshot of a home run to Miguel Sano and four runs. He's your No. 2 starter.
A parade of relievers followed and one of them was bound to give it up, in this case Hirokazu Sawamura, who allowed two hits and two runs in two innings, the damage coming on a seeing-eye grounder past the drawn-in infield and a diving Xander Bogaerts. Later, Matt Barnes undid a mini-comeback by allowing two runs in the ninth.
While it's fair to criticize the offense on a day when it offered little beyond a solo homer from Alex Verdugo, a couple of more hits from Jackie Bradley Jr. and a late home run from Rafael Devers, in the big picture, the Red Sox will score runs. That's not a long-term problem.
The pitching staff, on the other hand? Oof.
Chaim Bloom and baseball operations did nothing to address the top of their rotation this offseason, unless you count letting left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez walk in free agency.
They assumed a full, healthy season from left-hander Chris Sale, and it's not a second guess to say they should've had a plan B. Sale broke a rib throwing a pitch during the lockout and will be sidelined until at least June. The best-case scenario is he returns to make a difference. The worst is that he's a sunk cost of $145 million. Gun to my head, I'm laying the latter bet.
Replacements Michael Wacha and Rich Hill each pitched pretty well, all things considered, in their respective debuts, but they're short-term solutions for a reason. The veteran Bloom acquired with the highest upside, rehabbing left-hander James Paxton, could end up being Ramon Martinez for all we know, a perpetual source of promise instead of results. And he's hardly guaranteed to contribute anything in 2022.
Beyond Eovaldi and Whitlock, it's hard to feel great about any pitcher on the staff. Third starter Tanner Houck pitches around the strike zone. Wacha hasn't posted an ERA below 5.00 since 2019. Hill is crafty and fiery, but he's 42 and probably good for 20 starts.
The bullpen beyond Whitlock and maybe left-hander Matt Strahm depends on the day. Hansel Robles has pitched well, but can be a heart attack with his command. Ryan Brasier is still trying to regain his velocity. Barnes has yet to pitch with a lead and on Friday could barely find the plate. Jake Diekman looked great in New York and then misfired in Detroit. And on and on it goes.
This is what happens when a glaring need goes unaddressed. The Red Sox prioritized patching their rotation over a more permanent solution. The Mariners signed 2021 American League Cy Young winner Robbie Ray for five years and $115 million. The Blue Jays replaced him with All-Star right-hander Kevin Gausman for five years and $110 million. The Cubs added Marcus Stroman. The Giants snagged Carlos Rodon.
There were arms available, and the Red Sox continued to sift for minnows rather than cast for tuna. When Friday's defeat ended with a Bobby Dalbec strikeout, the 36,000 in attendance let out a small murmur and then filed silently towards the exits.
My fear is that this Red Sox pitching staff ensures there's a lot more where that came from this summer.