FORT MYERS, Fla. — Earl Weaver, the Hall of Fame manager with the Baltimore Orioles during the 1970s, used to say a team needs “deep depth” to make it through a season.
The 2017 season hasn’t even begun yet, but the Boston Red Sox are already realizing how quickly depth can dissipate.
Spring training began with the David Price scare, when the former Cy Young winner left camp to consult elbow specialists to see if he needed Tommy John surgery.
He doesn’t, but has yet to pitch in a Grapefruit League game.
Then came Tyler Thornburg, a key bullpen addition during the offseason. He had trouble with Boston’s shoulder-strengthening program, and hasn’t appeared in a spring training game since March 1. With less than two weeks remaining until Opening Day, Thornburg has to get going soon if he’s going to begin the season as the team’s eighth-inning reliever.
On Sunday, pitcher Drew Pomeranz left his start after only two innings against the Minnesota Twins at JetBlue Park with tightness in his left triceps. It was only his second start of the spring, and he was expected to go deeper than that. During the offseason he received a stem-cell injection in his left elbow. He’s thrown a total of four innings in exhibition games this spring.
Pomeranz and the team were quick to say they were not worried about the tightness. Back in Boston, there was plenty of worry. The Sox came into camp with six starting pitchers. Suddenly, one of them (Price) is out and another (Pomeranz) hasn’t gone deeper than two innings in a spring training game.
The good news is that Kyle Kendrick, the 32-year old veteran signed to a minor-league contract in the offseason, has been terrific this spring. He allowed two runs on five hits in five innings Monday. Kendrick, who hasn’t pitched a major league game since 2015, would be the pitcher the Red Sox would turn to if Pomeranz misses any time.
Kendrick pitched for the Phillies from 2007-14. Philadelphia is now the home of Clay Buchholz, who was traded away for minor leaguer Josh Tobias in December. The move was made to get the Red Sox under the Competitive Balance Tax threshold, the so-called luxury tax that teams must pay if they payroll is too large.
Buchholz was a frustrating figure in Boston for the past 10 years, but he is exactly the type of pitcher the Sox could use if Pomeranz and Price aren’t ready for the start of the season. The type of pitcher that gives a rotation “deep depth.”
In 2006, the year before Buchholz made his debut for Boston, the Sox traded away Bronson Arroyo because they had too many starters. General Manager Theo Epstein figured Arroyo wasn’t going to be in the starting rotation after the team acquired Josh Beckett in the offseason. He traded the righty away for slugger Wily Mo Pena, who was supposed to be a big-time power hitter for Boston.
Pena hit all of 16 homers in parts of two seasons for the Red Sox, who used 14 different starting pitchers in that injury-filled 2006 season.
It’s far too early to assume these spring training injuries will last deep into the season. It is a reminder that you never really have enough depth. And that even the best teams will rely on the talent of their reserves to make it through the marathon of a major league season.
Tom Caron is a studio host for the Red Sox broadcast on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.