A lot went wrong during the Red Sox’s 10-game losing streak, and the collapse of the club’s starting rotation was a contributing factor. As a whole this season, Boston has gotten roughly league-average work out of their starters, who place 14th among MLB teams in FIP (3.79), 16th in runs allowed per game (4.21), and 12th in strikeout rate (20.5%).
But by late May, cracks began to show in the club’s starting staff, beginning chiefly with Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront, who both wound up on the DL after miserable months. Jake Peavy too saw some of his early-season fortune dissipate, suddenly leaving the Red Sox with just two dependable starters.
Sending Buchholz and Doubront to the DL has helped stabilize the rotation, however, allowing the Red Sox to tap into their strong starting pitching depth down in Triple-A. Brandon Workman returned to the fold after impressing in three starts and out of the bullpen in 2013, while Rubby de la Rosa earned a somewhat surprising start and proceeded to shut out the Rays over seven innings.
Boston’s Triple-A pitching depth was a significant storyline prior to the season, but up until now, solid health among Red Sox starters and patience from GM Ben Cherington (perhaps too much) had kept the club from calling up any of its talented young arms. With a staff of Workman, de la Rosa, Allen Webster, Matt Barnes, and Anthony Ranaudo, the Red Sox were always in a good position to replenish the rotation when necessary.
That Workman and de la Rosa are perhaps lesser prospects than their other Pawtucket counterparts is an even more impressive and encouraging notion for the Red Sox. The club’s recent seven-game winning streak occurred over two of their starts, with both youngsters giving Boston far better chances to win than Buchholz and Doubront had been.
The 25-year-old Workman might still end up as a reliever, though John Farrell has stated he views the right-hander as a future starter in the majors. Either way, he has been steady through five career starts now, posting a 3.14 ERA with 25 strikeouts and 10 walks in 28.2 innings. In two starts this season, both against the Rays, Workman has had moderate success, failing to get out of the sixth inning on both occasions, though allowing just five earned runs combined in 10.1 innings pitched.
Workman isn’t going to come in and fix everything that’s wrong with the Red Sox, but at the moment, he gives Boston a better chance to win than Buchholz did throughout May. With the lineup struggling, simply keeping the Red Sox in the game is a step in the right direction.
de la Rosa represents a more intriguing option for Boston, in large part because he averaged 96.5 mph over seven dominant innings against the Rays. Acquired in the trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett to Los Angeles, the 6-foot-1 de la Rosa combines his big fastball with a changeup that he feels comfortable throwing in any count. The pitch gave the Rays fits last Saturday, with de la Rosa throwing the pitch a surprising 46 times and generating an impressive 13 whiffs in the process.
Whether de la Rosa can continue leaning on his changeup so heavily remains to be seen. Adding another solid pitch to go along with his fastball and change (he did feature an adequate slider in his first start) would go a long way toward assuring his future remains in a major league rotation rather than in relief.
Despite a bumpy first two months, Boston’s depth remains an asset, and one that could loom large in a division still up for grabs. With Webster, Barnes, and Ranaudo also in the fold, the Red Sox have the luxury of being able to call upon more major-league ready talent than their AL East counterparts, especially to provide a boost to the rotation. Compared to their closest rivals (most notably the Yankees but also the Orioles and Jays), the Red Sox should be in a better position to replenish from within or add from outside the organization by dealing from their plethora of high-minors talent.
With Workman and de la Rosa in the fold, Webster, Barnes, and Ranaudo not far behind, and Henry Owen lurking in Double-A, the Red Sox have more than enough minor-league firepower. Using all this depth in a manner that will aid the big league club in 2014, either through trade or injury replacement, will be one of the bigger challenges for Cherington and the Red Sox in the season’s remaining four months.