Red Sox

Brayan Bello’s a Red Sox starter in 2023, clearly, but who’ll be there with him?

What's the rest of the rotation look like?

Red Sox pitcher Brayan Bello looks in toward home plate as a heavy rain falls at Yankee Stadium.
Brayan Bello's first appearance at Yankee Stadium began with an Aaron Judge double and ended in a downpour. Jessie Alcheh/Associated Press

COMMENTARY

Aaron Judge didn’t posterize a Red Sox pitcher after all, heavy rains on Sunday night denying him at least one final chance to crack home run No. 61. It also denied the Sox a chance to lose four straight games in the Bronx in the same maddening fashion:

Thursday: Erase 3-0 hole with four-run seventh, lose 5-4 in 10
Friday: Erase 4-1 hole with three-run sixth, lose 5-4
Saturday: Erase 5-3 hole with runs in sixth and seventh, lose 7-5

At least they were part of the hit-batsmen record.

Judge finished the four games with two hits and five walks, Brayan Bello contributing to both on Sunday. He missed up with a sinker in the zone and Judge doubled down the line. Bello hung a slider on the inner half in the fifth, and Judge just missed it.

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But all told, the 23-year-old accounted himself very well. As he has been for a month now: Since coming off the injured list, Bello’s pitched to a 2.48 ERA across seven starts, with better than 2.5 strikeouts per walk.

“He was excited, he was ready and he went out there and attacked,” manager Alex Cora told reporters. “So it was fun to watch.”

The start was Bello’s 10th, and the 40th from a rookie starting pitcher this winding-down season. (Connor Seabold should make it 41 on Monday night, and Bello’s in line for perhaps two more appearances in the final 10 games.) Heavy usage, necessitated by . . . well, how much time have you got?

Josh Winckowski (14 starts) and Kutter Crawford (12) are already the first pair of Red Sox rookies to make that many starts in a year since 1993. Together with Bello, they are only the second trio of rookies to hit double digits since World War II — the other was 1977.

Ideally, years like these are the start of youth movements, or at the very least youthful contributions. The rookies in ’77 included Bob Stanley. (A second, Don Aase, was traded for Jerry Remy.) The pair in 1993 were Aaron Sele and Paul Quantrill, each of whom pitched a decade-plus mostly elsewhere.

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Eduardo Rodriguez went from a leaned-on rookie for a bad 2015 team to a key piece in 2018 and a 200-inning arm a year later. Similar story with Roger Clemens in 1984, with the major detour of his shoulder surgery in Year Two. Bello is the obvious lead candidate to fill that best-case future, what with Pedro Martinez pumping him up as having “the potential to be a Cy Young type of pitcher.”

So, let’s pencil him in for 2023. Dark pencil. What’s the rest of the rotation look like?

Nick Pivetta (thanks to some manipulation two years ago) is under team control through 2024, though his dreadful season within the division has dimmed feelings at least a little. Regardless, he is unquestionably the tent peg heading into the winter.

Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock would seem candidates, provided both come through their season-ending surgeries healthy and that they aren’t again best used to save a bad bullpen.

There will be veterans on short-money deals, of course, because there always are. Chris Sale is, I’m gonna guess, not going to opt out of his $55 million for 2023-24. What of James Paxton, whose $6 million for zero MLB innings put the Sox over the luxury tax? Will he take a $4 million player option for 2023 if the Sox — and how could they not — decline their two-year, $26 million option?

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It’s a lot of runway for either a major addition or all these rookies. Crawford oozes confidence and was their only reliable starter during July, when he pitched four straight solid starts against the divisional competition these Sox couldn’t beat all year. Winckowski called both Wrigley Field and the Yankees basic in so many words, and so was he, giving up too much hard contact and sporting the lowest strikeout rate of the top-20 Sox pitchers.

Does Eovaldi, back to his good-when-healthy roots, come back as a free agent as a short-money guy? Does Rich Hill stick around another year? When do Bloom and Co. make the call on Bryan Mata, who’s looked great after two lost years, and give him his crack at the majors?

It is, like so much around these Red Sox, feeling like a largely clean slate. And yet somehow, that’s not the usual breath of fresh air. A team that’s made a habit from quickly springing off these last-place finishes has its work cut out.

With each passing day, the nicest thing to say is that at least they’re closer to getting on with it.

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