The Red Sox are being cautious.
They’ve been playing baseball since last Thursday, when the lads from Northeastern and Boston College got a taste of the big leagues at JetBlue Park. That doubleheader rolled into the first of many games with the Minnesota Twins, and the daily routine of Grapefruit League baseball is under way.
Including the college scrimmages, the Sox have played six games. Yet we’ve only seen one of the starting pitchers expected to fill the rotation. Felix Doubront threw two strong innings against the Orioles on Sunday. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, and Jake Peavy have yet to throw a ball in game action.
This isn’t an accident. It’s by design. After playing into the final days of October last fall, the Red Sox know their veteran pitchers shouldered a heavy workload.
Jon Lester threw a career-high 2131/3 innings in 2013. A pitcher in his prime, like Lester, can handle that type of season. It’s the additional 341/3 innings that Lester threw in October that could take its toll on his arm.
The same can be said for Boston’s four other veterans in the rotation. John Lackey threw a combined 2151/3 innings in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. Clay Buchholz returned from a three-month run of injuries in September and threw 202/3 innings in October. Jake Peavy threw 122/3 innings in the postseason.
That’s why Manager John Farrell is essentially skipping the four of them this first time through the spring training rotation.
He knows they need to be ready when the real season begins on March 31 in Baltimore, but he also wants them healthy and productive in August and beyond.
“(We have to) take the necessary steps to get them ready not only for Opening Day and beyond, but take into account the added workload,” said Farrell.
This spring training, that means each of the four starters will get five starts in Florida rather than the traditional six.
Doubront, the youngest of the five, got an earlier start and will make six appearances before breaking camp.
With Peavy already sidelined with a finger he cut in a fishing accident, Doubront may be leaned on more than ever before.
The lefthander is now 26 years old and figures to be entering his prime baseball years. On Sunday, 18 of the 24 pitches he threw were strikes. He got through two innings economically, something he has struggled with in the past. He arrived at camp in the best shape of his young career, and is working with pitching coach Juan Nieves on picking up his tempo and pace.
There is a whole wave of young pitchers behind this rotation.
Names like Matt Barnes and Anthony Ranaudo and Henry Owens will be well-known to Sox fans by the end of this season. Still, the success of the 2014 team will be dictated by the success – and health – of the current rotation.
Managing the burden that rotation has to bear this spring is a good step towards making sure it can handle the workload this summer.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column apperas in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.