Chris Sale

These are the pitchers with the most to prove for the 2020 Red Sox

These are the pitchers with the most to prove for the 2020 Red Sox

Two short years ago, the Red Sox opened the season with two Cy Young Award winners, a six-time All-Star, and a future 19-game winner in their rotation.

Now the 19-game winner is all that remains, and he's going to miss the start of the season with COVID-19.

As we concoct scenarios for the Red Sox to reach the playoffs during this 60-game sprint of a season, we keep hitting the same wall — how will they overcome a rotation that has been decimated by trades, free agency, and injury?

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The answer lies with a host of pitchers with something to prove.

There's ace left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, who's coming off a career-high 19 wins and a sixth-place finish in the Cy Young race. He remains in Florida on the injured list, awaiting clearance to rejoin the team after a positive COVID test.

There's right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, a 2018 postseason hero who lost most of 2019 to an elbow injury. He'll almost certainly take the ball on Opening Day next week against the Orioles and he must remain healthy for 12 starts and pitch like a No. 1 if the Red Sox are to have any realistic chance of contending.

Those two will be followed by castoffs like left-hander Martin Perez, who hasn't posted an ERA below 4.82 since 2016, as well as throwback right-hander Ryan Weber and perhaps eventually the rehabbing Collin McHugh. They could be joined shortly by right-hander Zack Godley, who has been released twice in the last year and is reportedly nearing a deal.

That's a lot of flotsam and jetsam for an erstwhile contender, but it is the hand the Red Sox must play. After all, David Price, Rick Porcello, and Chris Sale aren't walking through that door.

"You talk about our pitching staff, we really are going to need length with Eduardo not being ready, with Chris Sale being out for the year," manager Ron Roenicke said. "We've got to have innings from people and what we see is our strength in our bullpen now is that we do have guys that go multiple innings. ... All these guys are valuable, especially when you don't have a five-man staff that you are really confident in and you know they are going to give you a lot of innings."

The returns during intrasquad scrimmages have been mixed, with Eovaldi pitching well but pretty much everyone else struggling, leading Roenicke to wonder if the pitchers were performing poorly or the offense was just that good.

"Maybe it's a combination of both," he said.

What's clear is that getting off to a fast start, pretty much a necessity in such a short season, rests with what kind of tone Eovaldi sets from the jump.

"His command has been pretty good so I think he's pleased with what he's doing," Roenicke said. "He's a perfectionist like all of them so he wants to continue to get better, but we really are happy with where he's at. We know we're going to need innings from him. With what our rotation is, he's got to be a guy we're going to count on to give us innings almost every game and hopefully along with that throw up a bunch of zeroes and we'll score some runs for him."

Eovaldi is ready for the challenge.

"We're going to have 12 or 13 starts, and it's going to be important to be locked in for every one of them," he said.

Perez comes next, and he's got something to prove. A Rookie of the Year candidate with the Rangers in 2013, when he went 10-6 with a career-best 3.62 ERA, he has struggled since, posting a 5.49 ERA over the last two seasons. The Twins elected not to re-sign him after he went 10-7 with a 5.12 ERA last year, but now he looks like Boston's No. 2 starter.

"It doesn't matter what game you've got," he said. "It's the same responsibility. You've got to go out there and win games. That's all that matters. We have to stay together. We have to work together as a group. If we stay together and work together as a group, we're going to do special things this year in this short season. That's the same responsibility that I had when this started. I'm getting to the point where I want to be. I'm available to get people out and give a chance to my team to win the game."

As for Weber, he relies on guile, deception, and sweeping movement to compensate for a fastball that barely breaks 90 mph. During his best start of 2019 in Toronto, when he threw six innings of one-run ball, he showed how he could attack the zone while staying out of the heart of it.

"I can throw 10 perfect pitches in a row, but that 11th one, if I get lazy — you guys know I don't throw hard — so if I get lazy and throw one over the middle of the plate, it could be a home run, and that could ruin the outing," Weber said. "So just trying to hone my best mechanics, my best pitch, and just staying convicted every single pitch, every single at-bat."

The fourth spot is up in the air and could go to someone like left-hander Brian Johnson, a survivor who was non-tendered last winter, but is still fighting for a job as a non-roster invitee. The fifth spot will probably be an opener.

By the time we get to that part of the rotation, however, the fate of the season will have been determined by the regulars with something to prove.

White Sox pitching coach 'concerned' about ex-Red Sox prospect Michael Kopech

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File photo

White Sox pitching coach 'concerned' about ex-Red Sox prospect Michael Kopech

As some MLB players choose to not participate in the 2020 season, it's important to remember some things are bigger than baseball.

Chicago White Sox pitcher and former Boston Red Sox prospect Michael Kopech missed the start of camp due to a "personal matter," and he recently made the decision to opt out of the upcoming campaign. It's unclear exactly why Kopech opted out, but the 24-year-old has been open about his battles with anxiety and depression. For that reason, White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper expressed his concern about Kopech's well-being.

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"I don't know what is going on with Michael, but I know he deals with some anxiety and depression, and my thought is, I sure hope he's OK," Cooper told the Chicago Sun-Times. "And I hope he gets to where he needs to be, where he's feeling good and wants to come back, because we will welcome him back with open arms."

"Last time I saw him in spring training, he was in a great place," Cooper added. "But let me put it this way: I sure hope the kid is OK. I'm concerned that he's not OK."

Kopech has not publicly discussed his decision to sit out of the upcoming season. Cooper notes the right-hander is "not in the mood to talk right now" to the media.

After missing the entire 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery, Kopech was slated to compete for a spot in the White Sox rotation. Of course, his mental health comes first, and we hope he returns to Chicago's pitching staff in 2021 under better circumstances.

"It's Michael's decision, and we have no idea what's going on in his world, and as a team, we support him 100 percent," White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon told the Sun-Times. "It's a tough loss. He's a guy who can boost our rotation or wherever he would line up in the row of arms. But looking forward to having him back next year."

Kopech was involved in the five-player trade that brought Chris Sale to the Red Sox in 2016.

How the Red Sox used Chris Sale to help sign a top pitching prospect

How the Red Sox used Chris Sale to help sign a top pitching prospect

Chris Sale won't contribute much to the Boston Red Sox in 2020 (if we even have an MLB season) as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

But the Red Sox ace is finding other ways to help the squad.

After the Major League Baseball Draft wrapped up last week, the Red Sox snagged one of the top undrafted free agents available in Saint Joseph's right-hander Jordan DiValerio, who signed with Boston just hours after the negotiating window opened Sunday morning.

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What made DiValerio so smitten with the Sox? It probably helped that Sale himself called the 22-year-old pitcher that morning.

"(Red Sox Northeast area scout Ray Fagnant) texted me out of nowhere and was like, ‘Hey, expect a call from Chris Sale,' " DiValerio recalled to MassLive.com's Chris Cotillo.

"I was like, ‘No way. Are you serious?’ And then, he told me if I got a call from a random number, to pick it up."

According to Cotillo, DiValerio was already "leaning heavily" toward signing with the Red Sox before Sale called him, impressed by the fact that Boston would have a seven-time All-Star reach out to him directly.

Sale then called to seal the deal, telling DiValero how much he's enjoyed Boston during his three-plus years with the team.

"He said it’s one of the best, if not the best organization in baseball,” DiValerio said. "He said once you get in, the family environment is really just incredible. He’s so happy to be a part of it. He told me I’m going to be happy to be in it as well."

How could DiValerio not sign with the Red Sox at that point?

The right-handed hurler -- who posted a 2.38 ERA with 33 strikeouts in four starts in the Hawks' shortened 2020 season -- was one of many players who likely would have been taken in a full MLB Draft but instead signed for the maximum $20,000 bonus after going undrafted in the five-round event.

DiValerio had interest from other MLB teams, per Cotillo, but the Red Sox literally played their ace card to ensure he'd choose Boston.