Fernando Abad (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Two weeks from Monday it all starts. So, with the Red Sox taking on the team they are opening the regular season with, Pittsburgh, Thursday night at JetBlue Park, it seemed like a good time to offer what’s what when it comes to the club’s roster.
“Where is our left-handed relief going to shake out as, and how does our bench and the third-base combination thereof play out? There’s been nothing determined,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “The same situations exist — left-handed relief, the bench and third-base situation, who’s going to be in that tandem behind the plate. We’re starting to get a little more information on the rotation, just by virtue of the physical ailment to David Price, to who’s pitching currently.”
That lefty reliever spot would seem to be the one legitimate unknown, with Robby Scott, and maybe even Edgar Olmos, certainly making a strong case for unseating Fernando Abad.
While Abad has made two appearances for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, giving up two hits in 1 1/3 innings, Scott has thrown in six innings, not allowing a run over six innings. Scott does, however, have options, which isn’t the case for Abad.
The Red Sox are clearly intrigued by what Abad can deliver, as is evident by their willingness to blow through the deadline (March 15, 2 p.m.) to cut the lefty and only be on the books for 1/6th of his salary. The next checkpoint will come March 29 at 2 p.m., with the Sox being on the hook for 1/4 of Abad’s $2 million deal if he is released. After that, the team will be forced to pay the reliever the whole ball of wax.
Olmos has become the wild card.
The 26-year-old lefty isn’t currently on the 40-man roster, and is working on a minor-league deal. But the fact he has struck out 11 in 7 2/3 innings thus far this spring suggests there might be something there.
“Edgar Olmos is throwing the ball very well,” Farrell said of the southpaw, who has pitched in 11 big league games. “One of the reasons we pursued him is the curveball. We feel like it’s a pitch that can have consistent success at the big league level. He’s starting to build some arm strength. We’re starting to see more power to his fastball to create greater separation between the two pitches. He’ll get on the mound hopefully tomorrow to hopefully throw long toss out to 120 feet today, so we’ll anticipate him getting back on the mound. The reason he came out of the game the other day was short-lived. He’s been a guy who has impressed so far.”
As for the extra infielder, it would be hard to see Josh Rutledge not having the inside edge.
Not only is Rutledge a Rule 5 draftee, meaning he has to stay on the major league roster or be returned to Colorado, but he hits right-handed. With Brock Holt serving as the left-handed-hitting option off the bench, Marco Hernandez would seem to be in an uphill battle despite a spring training that has seen him hit .355 with a 1.041 OPS.
It certainly would seem the two catchers who will break camp with the Red Sox will be Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon, who are both without options. Blake Swihart has certainly made it a more difficult decision, hitting .309 with an .819 OPS. Conversely, Vazquez entered Thursday hitting just .179 while Leon is 2-for-14 (.143)
Still, as Farrell explained, offense won’t be the priority.
“Catching is the hardest thing to get a read on as far as their timing,” the manager said. “We’ve been in a situation where we have rotated three guys in a starting role, so guys have been getting two at-bats every third day. With games having started yesterday on the minor league side, we’ll start getting catchers over there to get three or four at-bats on days they aren’t catching here. The offensive evaluation can be a little unfair. Blake has swung the bat very well, no denying it. So if you start to look at batting average as the comparable, that’s something, personally, I don’t think you can do at that position.
“There’s so much more to the position. There’s so much more to the organization depth needs. So it would be extremely short-sighted to say we are going to declare who is the catching tandem based on batting average.”
And, finally, the starting rotation?
Right now you’re looking at Rick Porcello, followed by Chris Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz.
“Based on the calendar, it puts Steven and Drew in games back here that weekend that we depart and head north,” Farrell said. “That would be a best-case scenario. That means they’ve taken the ball every days and are building up to, at that point, roughly 85 pitches.”