Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Hector Velazquez's tough night highlights Red Sox' fifth starter deficiency

Amin Touri
July 04, 2019 - 10:46 pm

It’s been written to death that Alex Cora routinely calls Hector Velazquez and Brian Johnson the “MVPs” of the Red Sox’ 2018 success for the consistency they brought to the fifth starter role, important depth pieces during Boston’s historic 108-win season.

That consistency has been nonexistent this season, and it got worse on Thursday when Velazquez struggled through 2.1 innings in Toronto, giving up five hits and three runs while only managing to get seven outs. Colten Brewer had to enter in the third inning and didn’t fare much better, giving up three runs of his own — including two homers — and getting just five outs in the process.

With Nathan Eovaldi only having thrown four times this season after undergoing surgery to remove loose bodies from his right elbow in mid-April, that fifth spot has shuttled between five other pitchers, none with any sustained success.

Excluding Eovaldi as well as Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez — the ever-present first four — Boston’s other starters have taken the ball 15 times and given up 36 earned runs in 46 innings, a frightening combined ERA of 7.04.

Excluding Johnson, who’s given up just one earned in eight innings over two starts, that number climbs to 8.29 for Velazquez, Josh Smith, Darwinzon Hernandez and Ryan Weber. Johnson has pitched well when called upon, though he’s been inconsistent at times and is presnelty on the IL with a non-baseball medical matter.

With Chris Sale struggling on Wednesday night, Cora turned to Velazquez to try and turn things around before the All-Star break, and Velazquez struggled. Rowdy Tellez’ two-run single immediately erased an early Boston lead in the first inning, and Danny Jansen took a high fastball from Velazquez in the second deep to center for his seventh homer of the season.

The right-hander threw 50 pitches and couldn’t get out of the third, far from the depth into the game and quality innings Alex Cora has been looking for. He may have had a short leash as ramps back up after a couple stints on the IL, but Thursday wasn't ideal.

Velazquez was fortunate not to pick up a loss as the Red Sox rallied from 6-1 down to take the lead with a six-run sixth inning to bail him out. Boston gutted out an 8-7 win, but Velazquez’s performance raised further question marks about that fifth spot, which will not be occupied by Eovaldi upon his return as he makes a transition into the bullpen.