FORT MYERS, Fla. — With Brayan Bello and Garrett Whitlock expected to open the season on the injured list, the Red Sox have holes to fill in their rotation.
Tanner Houck, who was being prepared as a starter for such an eventuality, will likely claim one of the spots. Righthanders Kutter Crawford and Josh Winckowski are competing for the other.
Both improved their chances on Saturday.
In what was a split-squad day for the Sox, Crawford threw 4⅔ scoreless innings against the Orioles at JetBlue Park. He allowed two hits, walked two, and struck out five.
At Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Winckowski allowed two unearned runs over five innings and struck out three against the Rays
“I struggled with command a little bit but I was able to make pitches when I needed to,” Crawford said. “I learned a lot last season and took those lessons into this year.”
Crawford was 3-6 with a 5.47 earned run average in 21 games last year, 12 of them starts. Winckowski was 5-7, 5.89 over 15 games, 14 starts.
“Those two guys will fill in until everybody gets back,” manager Alex Cora said. “They’re both throwing the ball well. We like the fact that they throw strikes and their stuff is up compared to last year.”
Winckowski has a better slider than he did last season, Cora said, and his delivery is cleaner and more efficient. Crawford’s velocity improved and his splitter is now an effective pitch.
Lefthanded reliever Joely Rodriguez suffered what appeared to be a significant injury in the eighth inning against the Orioles when he threw a pitch and clutched at his right side.
Rodriguez, according to an observer, was groaning in pain as he walked off the field into the clubhouse.
“Right torso pain” was how the Sox termed it.
“We’ll know [Sunday] how he comes back and then probably do some imaging to see where we’re at,” Cora said.
The Sox were planning to keep two lefthanders in the bullpen: Rodriguez and Richard Bleier.
Cora mentioned Oddanier Mosqueda as an “intriguing”option. He finished last season in Double A and has pitched well in five Grapefruit League games.
The Sox also have 32-year-old Ryan Sherriff, who was signed to a minor league contract. He has 44 games of major league experience but was among the first round of cuts.
Back at it
James Paxton threw 25 pitches in the bullpen, his first time off the mound since he strained his right hamstring on March 3.
“I wasn’t even thinking about [the hamstring] today,” Paxton said. “Just building up pitch count again.”
Paxton said he would need at least one more bullpen session and a session of live batting practice before he gets back in a game. The lefthander will open the season on the injured list.
“I’ve had a lot of practice in bullpens. I’m looking forward to game action,” Paxton said.
Paxton has not appeared in a major league game since Aug. 20, 2020. He had Tommy John surgery on April 12, 2021, then signed with the Red Sox the following December.
A series of setbacks limited Paxton to one brief start in a minor league game last season.
Kiké Hernández is expected back in camp on Sunday now that Puerto Rico has been eliminated from the World Baseball Classic. The plan is for him to play two out of three games starting Monday.
Yu Chang, whose last WBC game was March 11, is due on Monday. He was held up by a visa issue. The infielder remains a good candidate to make the team because he can play shortstop.
“[Chang] will come here. We know what he can do and then we’ll make decisions,” Cora said. “He’s part of the mix because of what he can do up the middle.”
But there is competition from Bobby Dalbec, who started his fourth consecutive game at shortstop on Saturday.
“So far, so good,” Cora said. “Bobby’s a great athlete. [Friday] he was working at second. He makes all the plays. He understands what he can do with his body and his internal clock is great. Off-balance throws, double plays … he understands the game and he’s a good defender.”
Justin Turner took batting practice on the field and is scheduled to be back in the lineup as the DH on Monday. He has recovered quickly from being hit in the face by a pitch on March 6.
First baseman Franchy Cordero, who was released by the Red Sox in November, is 15 of 29 with seven extra-base hits and nine RBis in 11 games for the Orioles after going 1 for 2 on Saturday. Another alum, righthander Eduard Bazardo, has allowed three earned runs in six games for Baltimore and struck out 10 without a walk over 6⅓ innings. Both are in camp as non-roster players … The Sox drew 7,752 in Fort Myers, their smallest crowd of the spring for a Grapefruit League game … The Sox are 2-7-1 since starting 9-0-3.
Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.