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After two games, the Boston Red Sox starting rotation has been lights out. Top pitchers Chris Sale and David Price combined for five hits, 14 strikeouts, and zero runs allowed in 13 innings of pitching. However, manager Alex Cora has raised some eyebrows after removing both players relatively early into their starts. These moves have led some to question what Alex Cora is doing with his starters. However, like it or not, Cora has a clear plan that he’s sticking to.
Answering what Alex Cora is doing with his starters
Game One: Pulling Sale after six innings
The 2018 season began with Sale Day, and through six innings Chris Sale looked like Chris Sale. The lefty struck out nine batters, and allowed just one hit, three walks and no runs. Nonetheless, his pitch count was at 92, and Cora decided to remove him. The bullpen went on to blow the lead, and Cora took some criticism for removing Sale as early as he did. However, Cora has always preached easing his starters into the season, and he was right to not back off from that philosophy.
Sale took a line drive to the hip midway through the first inning of his final spring training game. This game was supposed to be his regular season tune up, but he left after throwing roughly 20 pitches. Sale never went more than 40-50 pitches or five innings deep in a game, so asking him to hit 100 pitches and push for seven innings was asking for trouble.
The Sox had a 4-0 lead and the Rays looked dead. All the bullpen had to do was not give up four runs in three innings to an offense that couldn’t hit. Taking Sale out was the correct choice, and the loss lies solely on the bullpen for not doing their job.
Game Two: Pulling Price after seven innings
The Boston Red Sox won this game, so this decision wasn’t a big talking point. However, had the bullpen blown another league, pulling Price would have been the focus of sports talk for weeks on end. As great as Sale’s opening day start was, Price’s game on Friday was even better.
Through seven scoreless innings, Price allowed just three hits and zero walks while striking out five batters. Perhaps most impressively, Price had thrown just 76 pitches through those seven innings. Had Cora allowed it, Price could have pitched a complete game.
However, Cora once more pulled his starter and put his faith in the bullpen. This time, it wasn’t the pitch count, but the inning count, that led to this decision. While Price didn’t have an injury scare in spring training, he was never pushed deep into an outing. Throughout the spring, Price never pitched more than five innings at a time. Rightly or not, Cora didn’t want to see his #2 starter exert any more than he had to.
The Red Sox won the game, so the decision ended up working out. Whether it was the right decision is up for debate, but give Cora this: he doesn’t back down from his plan. Playing as recently as 2011, no manager in baseball knows more about the grind of a 162-game season than Cora.
Cora’s Overall Philosophy
With a team this talented, the ultimate goal should be keeping the best players healthy and playing their best late in the year, and Cora’s early managerial decisions play to that philosophy. While he may have been too cautious with Price, it’s better to be too cautious than push him too hard, especially with his elbow history.
The first-year manager has already gone on the record saying that this will not be the norm. Chances are, Sale and Price will pitch as long as possible starting the next run through the rotation. However, Cora’s early season decisions show he has a long-term, 162-game vision for this team.