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Why Boston Red Sox need Nick Pivetta to step up in wake of Chris Sale injury news

Robbie Stratakos

The Boston Red Sox were recently dealt a substantial blow, as left-hander Chris Sale was placed on the 60-day injured list with a fractured rib. While Sale missed the bulk of the 2021 MLB season due to an elbow injury, his return to the hill on a full-time basis was pivotal for Boston’s 2022 championship aspirations.

Sale’s absence doesn’t remove Boston from American League contention. That said, manager Alex Cora needs someone to pick up the slack in his starting rotation. Nick Pivetta is candidate one to do as such.

Here’s why the Red Sox need Pivetta to step up in the wake of Sale’s prolonged absence.

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Nick Pivetta has some upside for the Boston Red Sox

boston red sox pitcher nick pivetta
Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Pivetta has had his moments. The issue has been consistency and him not building on any brief success. All in all, the right-hander is a compelling starter who merely hasn’t broken out.

Pivetta typically relies on a consistent, three-pitch arsenal: four seamer, slider and curveball. In doing so, he has been able to log strikeouts at a high rate and provide adequate length. Pivetta held his own in three postseason appearances for the Red Sox in 2021, posting a combined 2.63 ERA and pitching efficiently on a short leash.

Prior to being traded to the Red Sox in 2020, Pivetta began his MLB career with the Philadelphia Phillies. While he displayed some of the same positives with the Phillies, Pivetta was unable to gain traction. At the same time, that has been the case for nearly every starting pitcher in the Phillies’ organization.

It’s a franchise that has continually struggled to develop talent from within. Heck, Aaron Nola went from an elite pitcher to a middle-of-the-pack performer.

  • Nick Pivetta stats (2021): 4.53 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 175 strikeouts across 155.0 innings (31 appearances, 30 starts)

The Red Sox have a track record of developing players across the board (most of their starting lineup and bullpen is made up of homegrown players). Of course, player development is a two-way street, as the team has to help make a player fundamentally sound while the player has to be dedicated to that process.

Pivetta’s 2021 campaign was his first full season as a permanent starting pitcher since 2018. There’s reason to be bullish about him building on last season in the form of finishing off hitters and keeping runners off the basepaths.

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Boston Red Sox’ starting rotation needs more flavor

boston red sox: nathan eovaldi
Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Pivetta has the potential to progress. At the same time, the Red Sox need him to actually do so.

At first glance, Boston has a plausible rotation. Pivetta has tangible upside. Nathan Eovaldi is a proven commodity and big-game pitcher. Tanner Houck had a superb 2021 campaign. Veteran starting pitchers like Rich Hill, Michael Wacha and James Paxton are capable of being sturdy forces.

When putting the magnifying glass closer to the subject at hand, though, this is a precarious rotation. Eovaldi is more of an efficient starter than a true one or two pitcher. Houck could very well become a top-of-the-rotation starter, but he still has to experience that growth. Hill, Wacha and Paxton all have documented injury histories and/or have been inconsistent.

There’s a lot of uncertainty with this group. While the likes of Garrett Whitlock, Jake Diekman, Matt Barnes, Hirokazu Sawamura and others figure to headline a reliable bullpen, they can’t be asked to get 12-15 outs per game. They need the starting five to provide length, which will be difficult to achieve if they perform to their career tendencies.

If and when Sale returns to the hill, he adds to the rotation uncertainty. Last season, Sale made just nine starts and will inevitably have a prolonged ramp up to pitching deep into games. There has to be an outlier with this unit.

Related: Boston Red Sox standing in our updated MLB rotation rankings

Nick Pivetta is the X factor for the Boston Red Sox

No team is perfect, but the Red Sox have their hands full with the AL East. There are four legitimate playoff and/or pennant threats in their division, including themselves.

The Tampa Bay Rays have a well-oiled machine for a roster with budding youth in every part of their roster. While they still haven’t won a playoff series with their deep-rooted core, the Toronto Blue Jays have a stacked offense, which is accompanied by a high-level rotation. All the while, the New York Yankees find a way to be in the mix despite being ravaged by injuries on a yearly basis.

All this competition comes without even mentioning the threat the Chicago White Sox pose, as well as the increased competition in the AL West. Boston has no margin for error. Their weakness is starting pitching, an issue underscored by Sale’s setback.

Perspective can be everything. Had the Red Sox lost to the Yankees in the AL Wild Card Game last season, their rotation may have been more of an offseason priority. In reality, the Red Sox got past the Rays in the ensuing round because their offense got the best of Tampa Bay pitching; it wasn’t because of their own starting pitching.

Pivetta is the X factor for Boston. They need him to answer the bell in a profound way, and anything else they get from their rotation is an added bonus.