Ever since last week’s news that Chris Sale will begin the 2020 season on the injured list, there has been much speculation about how the Red Sox would fill his absence. Even though it currently seems that he won’t need to go under the knife for Tommy John surgery, the team will still need to replace him in some fashion.
It was recently revealed that the Boston brass are open-minded as to how they go about filling Sale’s innings, having put the opener strategy on the table.
Jason Mastrodonato of The Boston Herald spoke with Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke, who gave some details about a presentation from chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. (Bloom, of course, was with the Rays when they pioneered the use of the opener.)
Roenicke outlined that they are still considering using two openers, as well as using some pitchers to “pitch three innings every three days.”
It seems the approach is still in a very speculative stage. One element being considered is the stretching out of Darwinzon Hernández. Before last year, Hernández had primarily been a starter in the minors. But 2019 saw him oscillate between starting and the bullpen, making 12 starts and and five appearances at two minor levels to go along with one start and 28 relief appearances in the big leagues. What form his contribution will take in 2020 seems to still be up in the air.
“We talked about it again a couple days ago,” Roenicke said, “and I think that talk is probably going to continue on with him. Especially the better he does at more innings, we’ll probably keep talking about it. Maybe he’s at two innings and then goes to three. Then we’re like, ‘OK, do we try this guy and see how he does starting?’ Those conversations I imagine will probably happen through the years.”
Another name to watch out for is Ryan Weber, according to Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe. Abraham notes that the Red Sox are trying to maximize Weber’s five-pitch mix by increasing the use of his cutter.
Much like Hernández, Weber’s position within the staff doesn’t seem to be locked down. But that doesn’t seem to be bothering him. “If I get the ball in the first inning or the third inning, I’m going to pitch the way I pitch,” Weber said. “I’m comfortable starting or relieving.” Weber made 16 starts for the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox in 2019. But at the big league level, only three of his 18 appearances were starts.
The bottom line seems to be that all options are being kept open for now. As Roenicke says, “I think we’re still hoping that one of these guys that we’re looking at in camp is going to ‘wow’ us basically and we know we can go with him as a starter every fifth day,” he said. “So I think that’s what we’re waiting for.”
If Hernández and Weber don’t provide that ’wow’ factor, Boston does have other options, as recently outlined by MLBTR’s Connor Byrne. Though the Fenway faithful will surely be hoping for Sale’s speedy recovery and that whatever emergency measures are required are only temporary fixes.