Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

Red Sox' pitching plan on full display in first 2 games

Rob Bradford
March 31, 2018 - 12:12 pm

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Remember the scene in the movie "Hoosiers" where Gene Hackman tells the ref, "My team is on the floor," not allowing a fifth player to go into the game after a foul-out had left him with four? That's kind of how it felt Friday night at Tropicana Field.

After cruising through his first seven innings, David Price had come back into the dugout, offering up a series of high-fives as to punctuate his outing. And moments later Matt Barnes could be seen warming up at a tempo that would suggest his time to enter the game was coming. But even with those signs, it was hard to fathom that Alex Cora would pull the plug on Price after just 76 pitches. He had, after all, allowed just four singles without giving up a run or walk. It was the epitome of cruising.

Sure enough, on came Barnes to pitch the eighth inning.

And all of this happened one day after Cora had ended Chris Sale's night at 92 pitches, paving the way for the Red Sox' bullpen meltdown in the eighth. This time it worked out in what would be a 1-0 Red Sox win. That, however, didn't make the move any less of a chief talking point.

"A thought of even longer? No. But that long, depending on his pitch count, that’s what we’ve been saying, we’re protecting these guys and we know where he’s coming from last year," Cora said matter-of-factly after his first big league win as a manager. "We’ve got to protect him. he was very efficient early in the game and he was able to go deep in the game."

To add some context to Price's short-leash, the starter had never thrown fewer than 99 pitches in any of his previous initial starts to a season. The only other start the lefty finished with 76 or fewer pitches and more than five innings? That was in 2013 when he went seven and 70 pitches in his first start coming off the disabled list.

But this was just as much about Sale and the other starters as it was Price.

The Red Sox are dug in more than ever on making sure these guys get to the finish line in fine fashion, which hasn't been the case more times than not even in their best years. Last year's run with Sale was a perfect example, with the lefty getting to Aug. 19 having thrown the most pitches per game of any starter in the majors (109.9) before ultimately petering out down the stretch.

"It's really not. It's not hard," said Red Sox pitching coach Dana LeVangie when asked if it was tempting not to leave Price in. "We have a goal in mind and it wasn't going to happen today. We weren't going to pay the price where we were at today a month down the road or two months down the road. We have a goal in mind and to keep these guys healthy all year long."

The Red Sox aren't seemingly alone in this approach, with not a single starter throwing 100 pitches on Major League Baseball's first day, Thursday. And after two games, only Cincinnati's Homer Bailey eclipsed the 100-pitch plateau, tossing an MLB-high 104.

"We're looking to win every game possible, but we also see the big picture in this whole thing," LeVangie said. "Before we go overboard in the first game of the year, where are we going to pay the price down the road? We're going to pay the price at some point. If we go beyond the spikes we built in spring training, eventually, we're going to pay the price. We're looking to extend that. Again, we want to win every game we can, but ultimately it's really important we protect these guys and see the big picture so they're pitching strong when we need them the most."