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Red Sox starters had an incredibly successful first turn through the rotation

BOSTON -- There really wasn't much excitement surrounding the Red Sox starting rotation heading into the new season. But Boston's starters far exceeded any expectations in their first trip through the rotation, and it looks like new pitching coach Andrew Bailey has an excellent plan in place to get the most out of the group in 2024.

The Red Sox went into the new season without a true ace. Brayan Bello was thrust into his first Opening Day start at the age of 24 because Lucas Giolito was lost for the season in spring training and the Boston front office decided not to sign any other veteran arms over the winter. Bello was now expected to anchor a staff of mostly middle-of-the-rotation arms, with Nick Pivetta, Kutter Crawford, Garrett Whitlock, and Tanner Houck following in the five-man group.

Hey, at least there aren't any "openers" in that mix, many people thought ahead of the season. Having to see Alex Cora rely on a bullpen day (or for one stretch, a pair of bullpen days) just to get through the end of last season still haunts many a Red Sox fan.

But one time through the rotation in 2024, there is a reason to feel some promise. Maybe even a smidgen of hope.

Cora got 28 innings out of his starters their first time through. Boston starters allowed just four earned runs over those 28 innings, good for a 1.28 ERA. They allowed just 17 hits, holding opposing hitters to a .170 average. 

Red Sox starters were not just good their first time through. They were downright excellent.

No, we're not going to hit you with "five aces" at the moment. We'll add that having success for four games against the Mariners and one against the horrendous A's shouldn't lead anyone to get excited about October baseball returning to Boston just yet. 

But the Red Sox clearly have a plan in place under Bailey, and they executed it to some incredible success over the first five games of the year.

Rule 1 in the Bailey system is to, seemingly, throw strikes. Lots and lots of strikes. After Bello threw just 49 of his 84 pitches for strikes on Opening Day (58 percent), the rest of the gang threw at least 63 percent of their pitches for strikes: Pivetta at 68 percent, Crawford and Whitlock at 63 percent, and Houck at an outstanding 76 percent Monday night.

Houck threw 63 of his 83 pitches for strikes in Monday's 9-0 win in Oakland, striking out 10 batters in the process. He did so without throwing a single four-seam fastball, which is another point in the Bailey approach.

Bello did not throw a four-seam fastball in his first start of the season. No Red Sox starter threw a four-seamer more than 30 percent of the time in their first go of 2024, with Pivetta leading the way at 28.6 percent. 

The focus has been on breaking pitches, and Sox starters threw plenty of them. Bello's sinker dominated his arsenal, with the young righty throwing the pitch 43 percent of the time against the Mariners. Pivetta was sweeper-heavy at 33.3 percent, while Crawford threw his sweeper (37 percent) or cutter (28.6 percent). The four-seamer-less Whitlock let his changeup do most of the talking (30 percent) in his five innings of one-run ball, with help from his sinker (28 percent).

Most impressive about the first five starts? Boston starters issued just one walk over their 28 innings. More batters got on thanks to a baseball to the ribs (two HBPs) than via a free pass from Red Sox starters.

All the strikes thrown -- 273-of-416, good for a 65.6 percent clip -- led to plenty of strikeouts. Bello only fanned a pair of batters on Opening Day, but Pivetta followed that up with a 10-K performance. Crawford fanned seven Mariners, Whitlock followed that up eight eight punchouts, and Houck got things started against the Athletics with 10 strikeouts on Monday night.

Boston starters are averaging 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings so far. And the bullpen hasn't been bad either, sporting a 1.65 ERA over 16.1 innings. Take out a bad showing from lefty Joely Rodriguez, and the Red Sox could be 4-1 on the young season.

Obviously, there is a lot of baseball to be played, and chances are the Red Sox aren't going to get these kinds of performances from their starters each time out. But one time through the rotation, it looks like Andrew Bailey has a very solid system in place and Boston pitchers have bought into it already.

So far, it has led to some solid -- and surprising -- success from the Red Sox starting rotation.

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