Josh Winckowski hoped to join Boston’s starting rotation, but he’ll start the 2024 season in the same role he served last year as a multi-inning reliever. Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Boston Red Sox left Florida on Sunday night and headed to Texas for a pair of final exhibition tune-ups. After that it’s a 10-game road trip through Seattle, Oakland and Anaheim to start the season. It’s one of the longest season-opening road trips in the history of the franchise.

Will it be one of the longest seasons in recent memory? Manager Alex Cora and his staff are hoping it’s not. They’re looking to prove the critics wrong, and that the good vibes of a drama-free camp will translate to a competitive season.

There were very few surprises in southwest Florida. The team will begin the season with the starting rotation we expected. Minus the injured Lucas Giolito, the Red Sox will go with Brayan Bello, Nick Pivetta, Kutter Crawford, Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck. All five were with the team last year when the Sox posted the fourth-highest ERA of any rotation in the American League.

Red Sox starters posted the second-fewest innings in the league, something workhorse Giolito was supposed to help fix this year. Yet he won’t throw a pitch for Boston after undergoing an internal brace procedure to fix his injured elbow. So it’s back to the same group.

The Red Sox believe their reconstructed pitching department will help get the most out of these pitchers. Pitching Coach Andrew Bailey is the velocity whisperer and is joined by Justin Willard, the team’s director of pitching. There were tangible results this spring, with Whitlock throwing new pitches (a one-seam fastball and a gyro slider) and the Sox posting the third-lowest ERA of any AL team this spring.

Is it sustainable? We shall see. We’ll also see if the bullpen is ready to shoulder some of the load this season. Back-end cornerstones Kenley Jansen and Chris Martin spent most of the spring on the shelf working back from injuries, each appearing in fewer than five big-league games in Florida. The two veterans proclaimed themselves healthy and ready as the team packed up to leave. We’ll see.


Multi-inning relievers will be the key to a staff that averaged fewer than five innings a start last season. Josh Winckowski, who posted the third-most innings of any reliever in the AL last season, will be taking that role once again after failing in his bid to be a starter.

Winckowski wasn’t happy when Cora told him he was headed to the bullpen. But after making his final Grapefruit League appearance, he was more accepting of the role.

“Big leaguer at the end of the day,” said the 25-year old Winckowski. “Going into my second Opening Day. Can’t really complain about much at all. As long as I help the team get wins, I mean, that’s what matters.”

The Red Sox added journeyman Chase Anderson to help in long relief. Anderson, who made 17 starts for the Colorado Rockies last year, also represents depth in the starting rotation. Yet he posted a 5.75 ERA in those starts, not the type of numbers that will excite fans. Anderson said he’s developed a sweeper, a pitch that helped him post a 2.15 ERA this spring with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He said the pitch didn’t work well in the high altitude of Colorado but has been great for him in Florida. We’ll see what it does in Seattle this weekend.

The consensus around baseball is that the Red Sox have an impressive lineup that will score plenty of runs this season. Trevor Story and Tyler O’Neill looked good as camp wound down and should complement the lefty one-two punch of Rafael Devers and Triston Casas. Ceddanne Rafaela made the team after a strong spring training and, with Jarren Duran, gives the Red Sox plenty of speed.

But can the team pitch? That was the issue last year, and there haven’t been many changes to the staff. We’ll see if the turnover in the supporting staff is enough to turn around their fortunes on the mound in 2024.

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

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