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Sox pitching depth on display as Winckowski steps in and spins gem

Sox pitching depth on display as Winckowski steps in and spins gem

Jun. 16—Normally being down two or more starters would be a crushing blow for any pitching staff.

As it stands now the Red Sox are without four.

Nathan Eovaldi and Garrett Whitlock are both on the 15-day injured list with a lower back and hip injury respectively, leaving the Red Sox with two holes to plug each turn through the rotation. Beyond them, the club has also been without Chris Sale (rib) and James Paxton (elbow), who have yet to pitch this season as each recovers from his respective injury.

In past years a situation like this would be cause for panic, and we’ve seen some ugly collapses gain steam because the team ran out of pitching. But this year the Red Sox have enough depth to get by, and once everyone is healthy the club could find itself testing the old adage that you can never have too much starting pitching.

This week the Red Sox have leaned on their impressive minor league talent to survive Eovaldi and Whitlock’s injuries. Sunday rookie Kutter Crawford came up and pitched five scoreless innings on short notice to help the Red Sox wrap up a successful West Coast road trip, and on Wednesday rookie Josh Winckowski made his second big league start and was excellent, pitching five scoreless innings in Boston’s decisive 10-1 win over Oakland.

“It’s very important, and we still have more,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora of the club’s pitching depth. “We prepare these kids to come up here and pitch this way. We expect them to do a good job because stuff-wise they’re really good.”

Crawford and Winckowski stepping in as rookies to combine for 10 scoreless innings in a pair of wins has been huge, but crucially there are a lot more arms available behind them ready to help the major league club if called upon. Wednesday night top prospect Brayan Bello painted his latest gem at Triple-A, allowing three runs over five innings while striking out eight to bring his ERA to 3.78 in six starts since being called up from Portland, and fellow prospect Connor Seabold has been excellent in Worcester this spring as well.

Any and all of them could play an important role for the Red Sox in the future, possibly even by the end of this season, and that’s not even factoring in Tanner Houck, one of Boston’s most promising young arms who appears to be emerging as Boston’s best closer candidate. They all have bright futures, but what’s really interesting to consider is how things might shake out once the veterans start getting healthy.

In the short term the plan looks fairly straightforward. Eovaldi and Whitlock will return to the rotation once healthy and rejoin Nick Pivetta, Michael Wacha and Rich Hill, all of whom have pitched well this season. But what about when Sale is healthy? Alex Cora made clear Wednesday that he’ll return as a starter, meaning someone would presumably get bumped to the bullpen to accommodate him.

Would that be Whitlock? Hill? You could make a case for either staying in the rotation or moving to the bullpen, and if Paxton returns during the second half too the answer might wind up being both. Plus, what if Bello keeps tearing up minor league hitters, or one of the other prospects pitches too well to ignore? If the Red Sox are lucky they could have some tough decisions to make later this summer.

That’s a good problem to have, and it’s a testament to the Red Sox that their years-long effort to build up pitching depth has born such bountiful fruit.

Email: mcerullo@northofboston.com. Twitter: @MacCerullo.

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