Starting pitching was supposed to be a strength of the 2019 Red Sox. Last season Boston’s starting pitchers had the fourth-best ERA in the American League and the fourth-highest strikeout rate in all of baseball.

Through the first series of 2019 the rotation has been the team’s biggest weakness.

Boston takes the field in Oakland late Monday night looking for its second win of 2019. And anything close to a decent start from a pitcher. David Price will be the latest to try to pick up where he left off in the 2018 postseason.

He was also hoping to stop a streak of absolutely miserable starts by the Red Sox rotation in Seattle. Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez and Rick Porcello each gave up six or more runs while lasting five or fewer innings.  It was a stunningly bad weekend for Red Sox starting pitchers.

On TV, we spent the weekend talking about how little these starters threw in spring training. In Seattle, Manager Alex Cora staunchly defended the plan put into place by him and his staff. They held back the starters in February and March because of the increased workload they endured last October. This weekend they didn’t look ready for the season.

“Check what happened last year,” Cora said after Sunday’s loss. “We did the same thing.”

Cora did hold his pitchers back in 2018, but not to the extent he did it this spring. They got their work in, but it’s not just a matter of arm strength. It’s about facing big-league hitters and getting command back for the long season ahead.  Instead, it seemed like they were doing it in regular-season games that counted.

“We played until October 28,” said Cora. “The previous year when I got here everybody was talking about how they were out of bullets in October.”

His point is well taken. Cora was brought in to manage a team that had won the AL East in each of the two previous seasons. It was a good team, but a team that seemed wiped out in back-to-back losses in the first round of the playoffs.

His plan worked a year ago. They went deep in October and won it all. This spring he pulled the reins harder. It didn’t work out well in Seattle, but the manager believes it will be the best plan for these pitchers in the long run. Cora said he wasn’t concerned after Red Sox ace Chris Sale gave up seven runs (three home runs) in just three innings on Opening Day.

“Which one would you take?” asked Cora. “Him throwing 99 (mph) in March and April or him pitching in the World Series?”

Cora’s point is clear. He’s not sweating out what these pitchers have – or don’t have – in their first starts of the season. He wants them to deliver late in the season and, more importantly, in the postseason.

Yet, to get to October teams need to win as many regular-season games as possible. Games in April matter. The Red Sox season is still in its nascent stages – the Red Sox don’t play their first home game for another week – and there is plenty of time for things to settle down.

After winning a franchise-record 108 games and a championship last season, Cora has earned the trust of Red Sox Nation. But this is Boston. That trust is being put to the test, even if it’s only been five months since the Red Sox rode duck boats through the city.

That’s what happens when a rotation gives up 28 runs in 15 innings to start the season.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.