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Chris Sale, a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox baseball team warms up during the first day Spring Training for the full squad at Jet Blue Park in Fort Myers on Monday, February 22, 2021. He is recovering from Tommy John surgery and is it is uncertain when he is returning. Salesmiling

Let me say up front that this first part is hardly revolutionary and that the idea was planted in my head by another member of the media, Sean McAdam, now of the Boston Sports Journal. But is discussing how the Red Sox might use Chris Sale if and when he returns this season, McAdam suggested the team use him as a bulk reliever, akin to how the Red Sox use someone like Matt Andriese, who, when effective, serves as a bridge from the starters to closer Matt Barnes.

And then it occurred to me:

The Red Sox might actually have two or three of these guys – and we might have a window into their long-term plan.

Two nights ago, Red Sox manager Alex Cora stated in no uncertain terms that the team believes Sale will pitch – and contribute – during the 2021 major league season. The question is how. Given that Sale is recovering from Tommy John surgery and the recent struggles of New York Mets right-hander Noah Syndergaard, the Red Sox will (and should) be cautious. But that doesn’t mean the Sox can’t find a way to make use of Sale’s skills if they want to make a run at the playoffs and, perhaps, beyond.

With that in mind, we present the trio of Sale, Andriese (maybe) and Garrett Whitlock – not to mention anyone the Sox pick up at the trading deadline.

May 25, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Garrett Whitlock (72) throws a pitch against the Atlanta Braves during the eighth inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s the point: The Sox starters this year have been better than expected (seventh in the AL in ERA) and their closer, Barnes, has been otherworldly. The gap in the pitching staff is in the middle. If the Sox can use Sale for, say, three innings at a time, they can fill the donut hole in their staff and get to Barnes, especially if they have multiple bulk relievers who can serve as bridges.

Sale, Andriese and Whitlock could serve as the proverbial bulk relievers and each pitch no more than two days a week – or something like that. Sale goes Monday and Friday. Andriese goes Tuesday and Saturday. Whitlock goes Wednesday and Sunday. (Or something like that.) The schedule wouldn’t be quite that structured because wins and losses obviously affect who pitches – and when. But you get the idea. Andriese, Sale and Whitlock all get workload protection – especially the last two – and the Sox have a parade of pretty good arms to use against better competition as the season goes.

May 18, 2021; Dunedin, Florida, CAN;Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Matt Andriese (35) throws a pitch during the sixth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at TD Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Will things play out exactly this way? Maybe yes and maybe no. But again, here’s the point: the Red Sox don’t have an ace and aren’t likely to get one at the trading deadline while chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom is rebuilding the farm system. For that matter, they aren’t likely to get any kind of premium talent who will come at a price. But what they may be able to do is get back a half-decent Sale to go along with Andriese and Whitlock, allowing manager Alex Cora to patch together a quit of decent arms through the entire nine innings of important games.

And starting next week against the Houston Astros and New York Yankees – and throughout the rest of the 2021 season – the Red Sox are about to do just that, however unlikely it seemed as recently as a couple of months ago.

They are about to play important games.

You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.