Tanner Houck seems likely to start the third game of the regular season for the Boston Red Sox, but he may eventually return to the bullpen, where he has thrived in recent years. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

The first month of spring training has provided some answers about the Boston Red Sox starting rotation. Here’s a look at where things stand now, with Opening Day approaching on March 30:

Manager Alex Cora confirmed this week that righty Corey Kluber will get the nod on Opening Day against the Orioles. Lefty Chris Sale is likely to start the second game of the year on April 1. Boston then has righty Tanner Houck lined up to pitch the finale of the first series against the Orioles.

Kutter Crawford and Nick Pivetta are the other two fully healthy starters in camp, and each is likely to get a start in the second series of the season against Pittsburgh. The guess here is that the Red Sox, at least for the first time or two through the rotation, will go with a starting five of Kluber, Sale, Houck, Crawford and Pivetta. Boston also has two off days in the first week of the season (March 31 and April 7), allowing an extra day of rest for everyone.

The Red Sox entered spring training with seven starters – Kluber, Sale, Houck, Pivetta, James Paxton, Garrett Whitlock and Brayan Bello – competing for five spots and others (like Crawford and Josh Winckowski) projecting as minor league depth. Injuries quickly separated others from the pack.

Whitlock, who underwent hip surgery in late September, didn’t experience a new injury or any setbacks but was brought along slowly at the end of his rehab process and didn’t get into game action until Wednesday.

Paxton and Bello, however, did get hurt. Bello experienced forearm tightness in mid-February and had his throwing program delayed; Paxton suffered a mild hamstring strain in his first start March 3. Neither injury is considered serious, but both starters were delayed enough to be behind the rest of the group. Whitlock, Paxton and Bello are all but certain to start the year on the injured list.


Whitlock is likely to make two more starts before camp breaks March 28. Barring any setbacks, he seems likely to miss a turn or two through the rotation before being activated in mid-April. The Red Sox have repeatedly expressed their desire to have Whitlock pitch as a starter, so there will be a spot waiting for him when he’s ready.

Bello threw two innings in a live batting practice session Wednesday at Fenway South and seems ready for game action as his next step. That means he’ll make about two starts before the end of camp and will be a bit behind Whitlock.

Paxton remains a ways away from facing hitters and therefore seems doubtful to be available at anytime in April.

Whitlock and Bello are two of the most promising young arms in the organization and are going to be major parts of Boston’s rotation in 2023. When they are ready to pitch, they’ll certainly get a chance to contribute (though Bello may make some starts at Triple-A Worcester as he ramps up).

Assuming the Red Sox aren’t interested in working with a six-man rotation, the returns of Whitlock and Bello will cause the Red Sox to make some decisions in April. Crawford has been good this spring (3.12 ERA, nine strikeouts in 82/3  innings) and pitched well in a prolonged stretch last summer but seems like the odd man out who will either go back to Triple-A or be bumped to the bullpen.

Beyond that, the choice will likely be between Houck and Pivetta for a bullpen role. Conventional wisdom points to Houck, who has thrived in a bullpen role in years past, returning to a relief job, but there’s a chance Pivetta will be asked to move to the bullpen after leading the team in starts and innings in 2022. Cora hinted at a potential rotation role for Houck early this spring when he said the team’s only goal was to maximize the righty’s innings.

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