The combination of lackluster performances by Kyle Kendrick and an injury to Steven Wright has the Boston Red Sox searching for a fifth starter.
Choosing from a dearth of rotation talent at the Triple-A level has been a major problem for the Red Sox since the onset of 2016. They'll need another starter for their game on Saturday with a starter named for Thursday.
After Kyle Kendrick's second consecutive 6 run outing, call-ups from the Pawtucket Red Sox rotation have combined for a dismal 8.30 ERA and a 1.98 WHIP over 13 starts. The names responsible for those subpar numbers are Kendrick, Sean O'Sullivan, Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, and Roenis Elias.
Which one of these players will get the nod from the Red Sox for this weekend's start? We can immediately rule out three of the aforementioned names.
Sean O'Sullivan is toeing the rubber for the Nexen Heroes of the Korean Baseball League and is no longer an option.
In addition to struggling at the Major League level, Kendrick has been underwhelming at Triple-A Pawtucket. The right-hander showed promise in Red Sox camp this spring but the ground-ball inducing sinker he featured prominently hasn't looked like the same pitch and Kendrick doesn't bring enough velocity to the table to get away with a lack of command or movement.
Roenis Elias is still fighting his way back from a strained right intercostal injury suffered this March. His injury woes continued when a lat strain forced the PawSox to scratch his first rehab start last Friday.
Henry Owens and Brian Johnson have each been steady or better at the Triple-A level but have been labeled with the four-A moniker due to continuous struggles in their MLB appearances. They've each made six starts for Triple-A Pawtucket this season with Johnson holding a slight edge in most statistical categories.
Owens has the better ERA at 2.27 but has lasted fewer innings and hands out too many base-on-balls with 21 free passes on the season.
Johnson has 37 innings pitched with a 2.92 ERA, a 1.38 WHIP, 32/15 strikeouts to walk ratio and only 2 HRs allowed. The Red Sox gave the 26-year-old lefty the nod back on April 18 in Toronto but the Jays lineup knocked Johnson around for seven hits and two home runs leading to four runs in just five innings of work.
Hector Velazquez is the newest arm among the Pawtucket rotation who has been carving up Triple-A hitters in 2017. He'll start for the big league team on Thursday, the team announced today.
Hector Velazquez pitched in the Mexican Pacific Winter League for the Mayos de Navojoa. He went 9-3 with a 2.32 ERA and 87 strikeouts over 85 1/3 innings and 14 starts with five scoreless starts of at least five innings.
The sparkling numbers caught the Red Sox eye and they eventually purchased his contract from the Piratas de Campeche of the Mexican League.
The heavy Winter League workload forced the Red Sox to take a cautious approach with the 28-year-old right-hander. After making several short starts to begin his season, Velazquez cruised past the sixth inning in his last three starts.
He has a minuscule 1.55 ERA coupled with a 0.79 WHIP after five starts featuring an unpredictable repertoire. Velazquez throws a four-seam fastball and a two-seam fastball. He has a regular change-up along with a split grip changeup that he uses to induce soft contact and he also mixes in a curveball and slider to round out his offerings. Apparently, he can also tinker with that slider grip to make it move more like a cutter.
His manager at the Triple-A level, Kevin Boles, praised Velazquez during a recent post-game interview with the Providence Journal's Bran MacPherson.
"He has the ability to tinker with grips," Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles said. "He can make the ball move. He knows what his plan is. He knows what he’s doing and what he wants to throw in particular counts."
The Red Sox would have to put Steven Wright on the 60-day disabled list in order to make room on the 40-man roster for Velazquez but this shouldn't be an issue with Wright expected to miss the remainder of the 2017 season.
Boston has used Henry Owens and Brian Johnson in this role before with little to no success and although Henry Velazquez has never pitched in the majors, his recent performance has him primed to get his first shot.