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McAdam: Red Sox 2019 pitching staff breakdown – Banking on starters

It would be difficult, if not impossible,  to find a team with more disparity within its own pitching staff than the 2019 Red Sox.

The rotation is rightly considered one of the best in the game, with two former Cy Young Award winners and a third starter who consistently finishes in the top five in Cy Young balloting.

The bullpen? That's a much a different story. Opting not to re-sign Craig Kimbrel -- or pursue another closing option via trade or the free-agent market -- the Red Sox enter this season with plenty of question marks and few answers in their bullpen.

A look at the staff:

STARTERS

Chris Sale

Consistently one of the most dominant starters in the game, Sale missed most of the final two months last season with mild shoulder inflammation. The Red Sox maintain he's fully recovered and showed their trust in him with a five-year, $145-million extension last week. Once again, the Sox will do their best to preserve him for the stretch run and October.

Scout's take: "They gave the right guy the money. The only question is durability for the length of the deal. Competitive, with nasty stuff. He obviously loves it there -- the environment, his teammates. There's a bond there.''

David Price

Thanks to his standout postseason performance, Price rehabbed his image last October and emerged as a more confident, less defensive pitcher. Now, let's see what that translates into for a full season. At the very least, he'll pitch for the first time in Boston without a chip on his shoulder. His velocity isn't what it once was, but he still has a full arsenal of pitches and the ability to command them.

Scout's take: "I thought what they did with him in the second half was great — moving him to the other side of the rubber. The stuff is still good. He's a solid No. 2. I think winning will be good for him. He's matured. I think he's starting to like it there. He's got the fans on his side now and that could liberate him.''

Rick Porcello

Somewhat unsung, but as competitive as anyone on the staff and capable of big moments. He's also remarkably durable and his decision to add a changeup -- taught to him by Eduardo Rodriguez -- shows a willingness to adjust.

Scout's take: "You might not know it unless you're around them, but he's the staff leader. He relies on a sinker-slider combination to go with that elevated fastball. A real student of the game and has a terrific work ethic.''

Nathan Eovaldi

The Red Sox made only one big expenditure coming off their World Series win -- signing Eovaldi to a four-year, $66-million contract. After coming over from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline, Eovaldi made a big impression in the span of three months. Teammates loved his zeal on the mound and his intense preparation between starts while the staff was wowed by his velocity -- which routinely hits 99 mph -- and the quality of his pitches. His six-inning relief stint in Game 3 of the World Series has become almost mythical and convinced the organization of his toughness. He's been held back by injuries and hasn't always maximized his ability, but the feeling is, at 29, he's about to his prime.

Scout's take: "Man, that cutter ... that's made him so much better and may have been the pitch he needed to really get to the next level. He's always had the big arm, but couldn't put it together. His transformation in the last year has been amazing. He's a bulldog and is very aggressive with that power stuff.''

Eduardo Rodriguez

Is this The Year? Rodriguez's raw stuff is as good if not better than anyone on a talented staff, but Rodriguez has, to date, underachieved. Slowed by injuries and hampered by inefficiency, he's being pushed by the other starters and Alex Cora to breakthrough. If he can be more aggressive in the strike zone and pitch deeper into game, the payoff could be huge.

Scout's take: "Have always liked him. He's starting to put it together and being around the other four, they'll keep on him. Finally healthy. In a lot of other of rotations, he'd be a solid No. 2 or No. 3. He's as talented as anyone they have.''

BULLPEN

Matt Barnes

Whether he has the title or not, expect Barnes to get plenty of closing opportunities. He's got elite velocity and a plus curveball, though command has been inconsistent at times. Confident, he seems ready to take the next step.

Scout's take: "Big arm. I've watched him since he signed and he's developed nicely. I liked him in the seventh and eighth (innings) and he's shown better command of the breaking ball. He might transition well, but the jump to the closer is a big one. It's different; it just is.''

Ryan Brasier

From a spring training invitee last February to a trusted member of the bullpen by September, Brasier had a heady journey last year and is being counted on a big way this season. He'll either share the closer's role, or get opportunities when Barnes isn't available. The question is an obvious one: after a storybook first season with the Sox, can he do it again?

Scout's take: "He fell out of the sky last year. I'm not saying he can't do it. Relievers, for the most part, are year-to-year. It's hard. I like the stuff, but the jury's still out.''

Heath Hembree

Hembree excelled in the first half with runners on base and became the go-to guy with inherited runners, but fell off sharply in the final two months. In fact, he's had a habit of second-half dropoff that needs to be corrected. Cora has gone out of his way to note Hembree is in better shape this season, so that could help.

Brandon Workman

Just like last year, an early-season dropoff in velocity has sounded some alarms. When Workman can operate his fastball at 92-93 mph. he's effective; when his velocity dips to 90 mph and below, his margin for error is far smaller.

Scout's take on both: ''Like Brasier and Barnes, these guys (Hembree and Workman) are going to be asked to do more. They're going to be facing better hitters in bigger spots. That's a big ask for both of them. I'm interested to see how it goes.''

Tyler Thornburg

Now two years removed from thoracic outlet surgery, the Red Sox are still searching for a return on their investment. His fastball showed better life and late action, but at times, he was still struggling with his mechanics and finding a consistent release point.

Scout's take: "He threw better this spring, but he still has hiccups. His arm strength looks to be back, but command remains an issue.''

Brian Johnson

A valuable part of the staff a year ago, he once again will provide both long relief and occasional spot starts. Johnson won't wow anyone with his stuff and his fastball is decidedly average. He relies on command and changing speeds to fool hitters, and as such, must be precise.

Hector Velazquez

Like Johnson, a swingman who provides depth. Velazquez was far more effective in relief (2.63 ERA) than he was in the rotation (4.15 ERA), but he gives the Sox a depth option when they need someone to fill in as a starter.