Remember when Dylan Covey was one of 27 pitchers the Red Sox used during a dismal 2020 season that only consisted of 60 games?
A former fourth-round pick of the Oakland Athletics who broke in with the White Sox in 2017, Covey was effectively released by Chicago leading up to the 2020 season and inked a minor-league deal with the Rays shortly thereafter.
On the other side of the COVID-19-induced shutdown that placed a freeze on transactions across Major League Baseball, the Rays traded Covey to the Red Sox in late July.
The right-hander was initially optioned to Boston’s alternate training site, but wound up making the club’s Opening Day roster. He made his Red Sox debut against the Orioles on July 25 and was then sent back down to Pawtucket the following day.
On August 8, Covey was recalled from the alternate training site, paving the way for him to make three more appearances out of the Sox’ bullpen before getting optioned eight days later.
Fast forward nearly four weeks, and Covey’s name was called upon once again. He closed out the shortened campaign on Boston’s big-league roster and made four final relief appearances in the process of doing so.
All told, Covey posted a 7.07 ERA — yet a much more respectable 3.91 FIP — to go along with 11 strikeouts to just two walks over eight outings spanning 14 total innings of work in his three stints with the club.
Following the conclusion of the 2020 World Series, the Red Sox outrighted Covey off their 40-man roster, thus allowing the righty to become a free agent since he had already accrued more than three years of major-league service time.
It’s unclear if Covey — a client of CAA Sports — was pursuing big-league opportunities upon hitting the open market, but he ultimately inked a one-year deal with the Rakuten Monkeys of the Chinese Professional Baseball League last May.
Equipped with a five-pitch mix that consists of a slider, four-seam fastball, sinker, changeup, and curveball, Covey debuted for Rakuten’s first-team in late August.
In 10 starts for the Monkeys, the 30-year-old put up a 4.01 ERA and 3.14 FIP with 38 strikeouts and 17 walks across 58 1/3 innings pitched. According to CPBLStats.com, he yielded a minuscule 0.84 ERA over his final five starts of the year.
If Covey — who turns 31 in August — can put together another productive season in Taiwan, it would be fascinating to see if the 6-foot-1, 214 pound hurler could garner enough interest from MLB teams to ponder a return to the United States next winter.
Regardless of the situation, Garrett Whitlock continues to get outs for the Red Sox on a consistent basis.
The latest instance of that came in Wednesday’s contest against the Mets, when the rookie right-hander was deployed in the sixth inning of a game the Sox had a one-run lead in.
Needing all of 31 pitches, Whitlock retired six of the eight batters he faced while striking out four over the course of two scoreless frames of relief in the sixth and seventh. He later picked up his third hold of the season.
Since making his major-league debut on April 4, the 24-year-old has yet to allow a run on just six hits and two walks to go along with 18 strikeouts over six outings and 13 1/3 innings pitched out of the bullpen.
“He keeps growing. He keeps getting better,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Whitlock on Thursday. “Yesterday was fun to watch. 1-0 game in New York, and to give us six outs where we were bullpen-wise, it was amazing. So he keeps growing, he keeps learning, he keeps getting better. And he’s an important piece of our bullpen.”
Prior to being selected by the Red Sox from the Yankees in last December’s Rule 5 Draft, Whitlock had not pitched above the Double-A level and had last pitched in a minor-league game in 2019 after undergoing Tommy John surgery that summer.
In his three seasons as a Yankees minor-leaguer, the 2017 18th-round draft pick never once swung a bat, but he nearly had to do so on Wednesday in a National League ballpark.
Cora asked Whitlock how many hits he had in the minor-leagues because his spot was coming up in the Sox’ lineup. The righty told him he had zero.
“And I was like, ‘Well, you better be ready. You might have to hit in the big-leagues,'” recalled Cora. Whitlock responded with a simple, “Whatever you need.”
To say Cora and the rest of the Red Sox brass have been impressed with Whitlock to this point would probably be an understatement. Not only is the Georgia native, who Cora described as “a cool individual,” dazzling while on the mound. He is making positive impressions off the field as well.
“He just goes about his business,” said Cora. “He trusts his stuff. He has a clean delivery. He throws a lot of strikes. And the stuff is that good. You saw it yesterday. That two-seamer in to [Jonathan] Villar, that was really good. We talked about it the first week. You guys asked me, ‘Who caught your attention? ‘ It was him. From what he does in the bullpens to the weight room to the training room — even carrying the beer on the plane. It’s kind of like perfect. Everything’s so structured. So we’ve got a good one.”
Per Baseball Savant, Whitlock currently ranks in the 98th percentile in expected weighted on-base average, the 98th percentile in expected ERA, the 89th percentile in expected batting average, the 93rd percentile in expected slugging percentage, the 93rd percentile in strikeout rate, and the 90th percentile in chase rate.
In simpler terms, he has done an effective job of mixing his sinker, changeup, four-seam fastball, and slider thus far.
“He’s competing since day one in spring training,” Cora said. “It wasn’t a given that he was going to make the team. Since day one, he’s been competing. He never showed hesitation about his work or what we were preaching to him. He just keeps going and it’s fun to watch. In an era that everybody puts pressure on people and everybody’s in the spotlight and everybody knows what you are doing because of social media, he’s just the same Garrett as when we got to spring training February 11.”
Whitlock, who turns 25 in June, would be under team control with the Red Sox through 2026 if he sticks on the club’s big-league roster for the remainder of the season.
(Picture of Garrett Whitlock: David Berding/Getty Images)
It wasn’t too long ago that Garrett Whitlock was at a crossroads in his professional baseball career.
The lanky right-hander — originally selected by the Yankees in the 18th round of the 2017 amateur draft out of University of Alabama — had his 2019 season cut short after undergoing Tommy John surgery that July.
He didn’t know it at the time, but Whitlock had pitched in his last game as a member of the Yankees organization on July 3, 2019 as his recovery from Tommy John coincided with the 2020 minor-league season being cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The deadline for clubs to add Rule 5-eligble players to their 40-man rosters came and went in November, and Whitlock — who was eligible — was not added by New York, meaning he was now eligible for the 2020 Rule 5 Draft.
The following month, the 24-year-old was taken off the board by the Red Sox, breathing new life into his baseball journey as a kid from Snellville, Ga.
By being selected by Boston in the Rule 5 Draft, Whitlock was now tasked with making Boston’s Opening Day roster out of spring training and sticking there for the entirety of the 2021 season or he would otherwise have to be offered back to his former club.
Prior to joining the Red Sox over the winter, Whitlock had primarily served as a starter in his time with the Yankees organization, but given the fact his new team is flush with starting pitching depth, a spot in Boston’s Opening Day rotation was essentially out of the question.
Instead, the 6-foot-5, 190 pound righty was to be made a swingman of sorts who could pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen or make a spot start or two when needed.
He was to still be stretched out over the course of the spring, but not with the intentions of being a fulltime starter once the season begins.
Thus far, handing down that role to Whitlock has netted nothing but positive results at big-league camp in Fort Myers.
Through his first four Grapefruit League appearances, the Georgia native has yielded just one earned run on eight hits, no walks, and 12 strikeouts over nine total innings of work, most recently fanning five Rays hitters over three scoreless, no-hit frames at JetBlue Park on Friday afternoon.
“What Garrett did today, that was impressive,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “But he’s been doing that the whole spring. It’s a good fastball. He’s able to elevate with it late in counts, and it was a great day for him.”
For someone who had not pitched in a competitive environment in nearly two years, the way in which Whitlock has gone about his business on and off the mound has stood out to Cora.
“He was hungry to compete,” said the Sox skipper. “He hasn’t been able to compete in a while. And he’s bought into the concept of the things that we do here, and he’s executing. He’s very talented… He watches every bullpen, he watches the B games, he goes to sim games, and he goes to the dugout when he’s not pitching. That makes you a better baseball player, and in his case it makes him a better pitcher.
“I think it’s that confidence that he has,” Cora added. “First of all, we trust him, right? Because we decided to pick him in the Rule 5 after coming from surgery. Second, with the things that we’re preaching and what he’s doing, he has to feel great. But one thing about him, he’ll show up tomorrow and he’ll ask a question: ‘What can I do better?’ That’s the key of this thing and he’s done that the whole camp.”
Working the sixth through eighth innings of Friday’s contest against the Rays, Whitlock, donning the No. 72, was one of three pitchers who relieved starter Nathan Eovaldi.
A fellow right-hander who knows the ins-and-outs of Tommy John surgery, it’s safe to say Eovaldi has been impressed with what he’s seen from Whitlock so far at camp.
“I’m very excited for him,” Eovaldi said during his in-game media availability. “The first time I saw him throw at spring training, it was early in camp and I was impressed. He’s got a great changeup, he’s got great command, he’s quiet, he’s very quiet and determined to be a part of this team, and he’s going about his business the right way.
“So I’m not surprised with what he’s been able to do out there on the field just because of the way he’s handling himself in and around the clubhouse and out there in the bullpen,” the fireballer added. “He’s kind of our secret weapon right there, so he’s looking great.”
Whitlock himself is not taking anything for granted this spring. He explained on Friday how undergoing Tommy John surgery changed his perspective on multiple facets of his life — including his faith — and how he is just overjoyed to be playing baseball for a living.
“When you have an operation like Tommy John, it’s never given that you’re going to play again,” he said. “I promised to myself that if I was going to get a second chance and I was going to be back out on the field, I would never take a day for granted again. Because every little kid’s dream is to play professional baseball, and I don’t care if it’s in the [Gulf Coast League] level or the major-league level, I get to play a kid’s game for a living. It’s so much fun.”
Given how he has performed this spring, Whitlock, as previously mentioned, is a sure bet to make the Sox’ Opening Day roster as a swingman/hybrid-type reliever who can also start when necessary.
Regardless of what role he undertakes beginning April 1, though, Whitlock will just be going out there to do his job, or in other words, get outs. That is something that was drilled into him during his time at UAB.
“My college coach told me the best pitching advice I’ve ever had,” he recalled. “And that was: ‘When they hand you the ball to go get outs, you go get outs until they come take the ball away from you.’ And so whatever role that is, that’s always going to be my mindset.”
(Picture of Garrett Whitlock: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
When the Red Sox agreed to sign veteran right-hander Garrett Richards to a one-year, $10 million contract last month, they did so knowing there would be some risk involved.
Excluding the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the last time the 32-year-old accrued more than 150 innings pitched in a single campaign came in 2015 when he was a member of the Angels.
In July 2018, his season was cut short due to right elbow UCL damage which would require Tommy John surgery that same month.
Since successfully recovering from the elbow reconstruction, Richards has technically not missed a beat, though he’s made just 17 appearances (13 starts) — all with the Padres — at the major-league level dating back to late September 2019.
Even in a limited sample size, however, the Oklahoma native proved to be effective enough for San Diego in 2020, posting a 4.03 ERA and 4.28 FIP over 14 outings (10 starts) and 51 1/3 innings pitched while placing in the 82nd percentile in fastball velocity, the 97th percentile in fastball spin, and the 99th percentile in curveball spin among big-league hurlers, per Baseball Savant.
The fact that Richards had quality stuff — and quite frankly has had quality stuff since being selected by the Angels in the first round of the 2009 amateur draft — last year made him appealing to a lot of clubs this offseason, the Red Sox included.
“Stuff-wise, for me, he was one of the best in the league,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Richards’ career when speaking to reporters via Zoom earlier Saturday. “He’s been hurt, but what I saw last year with the Padres was eye-opening. I’m glad that he’s with us. This is a guy that when we talked to him during the offseason, he feels that there’s more. For how veteran he is and his age, he hasn’t wasted too many bullets, right? Because he’s been hurt.”
In Cora’s praise of Richards, the 6-foot-2, 210 lb. righty also drew comparisons to a key member of Boston’s World Series-winning team in 2018 in Nathan Eovaldi.
The Sox acquired Eovaldi in late July of that season, a little less than two years after the flame-throwing right-hander had undergone Tommy John surgery for the second time in his baseball career. He went on to produce a 3.33 ERA over 12 outings (11 starts) and 54 innings to close out the regular season for Boston and a 1.61 ERA over six outings (two starts) and 22 1/3 innings in the postseason.
“It’s pretty similar to what we got in ’18 with Nate, when we traded for him,” said Cora Saturday. “A guy that has been hurt, but we knew at that time that he was going to be okay. Stuff-wise, off the charts.”
While Richards, like Eovaldi, has the potential to do some special things on the mound in 2021, one thing that cannot be ignored about his addition is the veteran presence he provides, especially with the uncertainty stemming from the ongoing pandemic.
“He’s a good teammate, too,” the Sox skipper confidently stated. “He was in a winning situation last year with the Padres and it’s good to have him around. With all the guidelines and everything because of the virus, it’s not that easy to get the groups together like we usually do in meetings to meet people. But, little by little, we will get to know him — we’ll get to know all of them — and he’s somebody that I’m looking forward to pitch every five days and see where he can go.”
Because Cora, who talks to the media first every day, mentioned Eovaldi when praising Richards, the 31-year-old Sox starter, who also spoke to the media on Saturday, was asked about the rotation newcomer and how their situations compare in regards to overcoming injuries.
“Early on, getting to see him throw a couple bullpens, his stuff is so electric,” Eovaldi said of Richards’ pitch repertoire. “The slider, the changeup, the fastball. It all comes out of the hand really well. He’s got a little bit of a different delivery, I think, but he looks great coming into camp. I’m excited to have him here.
“And then getting over the hurdles, I think you just build off of each start,” he continued. “You continuously build, you build that confidence up. I think him being here, our pitching staff, having [pitching coach Dave Bush and bullpen coach Kevin Walker] around, I think that’s going to help him out a lot. Just mainly using his strengths when he’s pitching and just keep attacking.”
At the moment, both Eovaldi and Richards are slated to crack the Red Sox’ Opening Day starting rotation. I would pencil them in to be the team’s No. 2 and No. 3 starters at this point, but that’s really more of a guess than anything.
(Picture of Garrett Richards: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Even though left-hander Chris Sale is slated to throw off a mound later this month for the first since undergoing Tommy John surgery last March, the Red Sox could be taking things slow with the starting pitcher’s rehab, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney.
Sale, who turns 32 in March, last pitched in a big-league game on August 13, 2019.
The Florida native signed a five-year, $145 million contract extension — which includes an opt-out after 2022 and a vesting option for 2025 — with Boston shortly before the start of the 2019 season.
Because of the money they have invested in him, the Red Sox, writes Olney, “would love for Sale to come back and be a factor at some point in 2021, [but are more] apt to take a conservative approach.”
Put another way, “the pace for [Sale’s] return from Tommy John surgery is expected to be deliberate, according to sources.”
As Olney notes, pitchers typically take anywhere from 12 to 15 months to recover from the elbow reconstruction that is Tommy John surgery.
With that time frame in mind, Sale, in theory, could be on track for a June or July return to the mound this coming season, especially given the hurler’s drive.
Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said as much when speaking with reporters back in November.
“With Chris, we’re still looking at a midsummer return to have him fully stretched out as a starter,” said Bloom. “But everything continues going along with that. Arm’s doing great, which is awesome.”
While Sale’s arm may be “doing great” at the moment, there is a legitimate possibility that the Red Sox would not want to rush the seven-time All-Star back too soon given the fact he is still under contract for at least two more seasons, and likely more.
“Both the team and the pitcher have reason to take a long view on his recovery,” Olney wrote earlier Monday. “The bulk of the left-hander’s production for the Red Sox will happen in the last three years of the deal.”
Per Spotrac, Sale is set to earn $30 million in 2021 as well as $30 million in 2022, $27.5 million in 2023, and another $27.5 million in 2024. Good for a hefty sum of $85 million over the final three years of his contract. He has a full no-trade clause included in there as well.
Taking the idea that Sale’s time table could be pushed back further than initially expected, Boston may need to do even more to address their starting rotation needs between now and the start of the 2021 season.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora touched upon this issue when appearing on MLB Network Radio over the weekend.
“I think being deeper means the world this year,” said Cora. “You come from a short season and all of a sudden you’re asking these guys to perform at the high levels for a lot of innings. So you’ve gotta be careful. So we’re trying to do that and at the same time, compete at the highest level on a daily basis.”
Last year, Boston starters put up the second-worst ERA in baseball (5.34) while finishing second-to-last in innings pitched (246). As noted by MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith, “that’s a 162-game pace of just 664.2 innings.”
(Picture of Chris Sale: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
Before coveted Japanese right-hander Tomoyuki Sugano returned to the Yomiuri Giants of the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization on Thursday, it appeared as though the Red Sox had at least some interest in signing the 31-year-old hurler before his posting period ended.
According to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, “the Sox had some interest in Sugano – who possesses excellent command of a four-pitch mix anchored by a low-90s fastball along with a slider and splitter – but his asking price exceeded the team’s level of interest.”
This is mainly the case because Sugano was reportedly seeking out a contract of four years or more from interested clubs, which apparently goes against Boston’s philosophy when it comes to signing free-agent pitchers this offseason.
In other words, the Red Sox “have been uninterested in exploring deals of that length for pitchers” and “have been focused on shorter-term deals of up to two or three years in length this winter,” per Speier.
Free-agent righty Jake Odorizzi would seemingly fit that mold after The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported on Wednesday that the 30-year-old “expects to land a three-year contract in the $36 million to $42 million range” at some point this winter.
Aside from Odorizzi, who is familiar with chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom from their time together in Tampa Bay, Speier notes that while top free-agent pitcher Trevor Bauer likely won’t garner interest from the Red Sox on account of his hefty price tag, the club is still very much in need of starting pitching help following a dismal 2020 campaign from its shorthanded rotation.
With that in mind, Boston may look into signing other veterans still on the market such as Corey Kluber or Rich Hill, both of whom reside in Massachusetts during the offseason.
Kluber, a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner, is expected to hold a workout — one in which the Red Sox will attend — for interested teams in Florida on January 13.
(Picture of Chaim Bloom: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
The Red Sox have signed free-agent right-hander Zack Kelly to a minor-league contract, according to PNY Sports. It’s unclear at this point if this deal includes an invite to major-league spring training.
Kelly, 25, was cut loose by the Angels organization back in May when most clubs released a good number of their minor-leaguers in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Virginia native was originally signed by the Oakland Athletics for just $500 as an undrafted free agent out of Newberry College (SC) in June 2017. He posted a 3.77 ERA and 4.07 xFIP over 13 appearances and 28 2/3 innings pitched for the Arizona League A’s that summer before getting released the following April.
Signed to a minor-league pact by Los Angeles later that month, Kelly had worked his way up to the Double-A level as recently as 2019.
Across 2o outings (13 starts) and 75 1/3 innings for Double-A Mobile, the righty posted a 3.82 ERA and a much more impressive 3.17 xFIP while averaging nearly 10 punchouts per nine frames of work.
Having put up those numbers in ’19, Kelly likely thought big things were on the horizon this year. Instead, he suffered an elbow injury in spring training which would later require surgery and, as previously mentioned, was released by the Angels in May as part of that mass exodus of minor-league cuts across baseball.
“It’s kind of frustrating because I felt like I had a career that wasn’t worthy of getting released at this point,” Kelly told The New York Times’ James Wagner in June.
Though it’s not clear which kind of surgery Kelly underwent over the summer, he was apparently throwing off a mound in November.
So, it would appear that the 6-foot-3, 205 lb. hurler could be ready for spring training workouts in Fort Myers come February.
So far this offseason, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have either signed or re-signed the following players to minor-league contracts (h/t SoxProspects.com):
C Roldani Baldwin C Jhonny Pereda 1B Joey Meneses 1B Josh Ockimey OF Cesar Puello OF Michael Gettys OF Johan Mieses LHP Emmanuel De Jesus LHP Stephen Gonsalves RHP Kevin McCarthy RHP Seth Blair RHP Raynel Espinal RHP Caleb Simpson RHP Zack Kelly
The Red Sox have declined left-hander Martin Perez’s team option for the 2021 season, therefore making him a free agent, the club announced earlier Sunday evening.
Perez, who would have been in line to earn $6.85 million next season if his club option had been picked up, now hits the open market as one of the more intriguing southpaws available.
The 29-year-old posted a 4.50 ERA and .744 OPS against over 12 starts and 62 innings pitched in his first season with Boston after a signing a one-year deal last December.
Outside of a poor 2020 finale in which he yielded six runs to the Orioles on September 24, Perez proved to be one of, if not the most consistent starter on the Sox’ pitching staff.
Despite receiving that level of consistency when the team’s pitching was, for the most part, dismal all year, Boston did not reward the Venezuelan hurler by picking up his option.
Instead, as previously mentioned, Perez is now a free agent for the second time in 12 months.
Perhaps chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. will look to bring the lefty back on a cheaper deal, but even if they do not, rotation additions and/or upgrades are still likely to happen regardless.
As noted by MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith, Perez becoming a free agent lowers the Red Sox’ current projected 2021 payroll down to $167.175 million, which as of now is well below the $210 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold.
Additionally, Perez hitting the open market now means that the Sox have 36 players on their 40-man roster, so there is plenty of space to work with on both of those fronts.
Going back to August 10, the Red Sox came into the week having gotten their 2020 season off to a disappointing 6-9 start even after a walk-off victory over the Blue Jays the day before.
Through the club’s first 15 games, Boston pitchers had posted an ERA and xFIP of 4.74, good for the third and sixth-highest marks in the American League, respectively.
Despite those early struggles, the Sox opted to give unfamiliar names a shot at the major-league level while keeping others with major-league experience down at the alternate training site in Pawtucket.
One of said pitchers who spent a good portion of his summer in Pawtucket was none other than Brian Johnson. The 29-year-old southpaw was less than two full years removed from serving as a valuable swingman who could make spot starts and pitch out of the bullpen when needed for the eventual 2018 World Series champions.
Injuries and illness derailed Johnson’s 2019 campaign, though, and with a new head of baseball operations at the helm in chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, the former top prospect was stripped of his spot on Boston’s 40-man roster and was ultimately outrighted to the minors.
Even with that demotion in his pocket as he reported to Fort Myers in February, Johnson looked solid in his spring outings and again at Summer Camp following the pandemic-induced hiatus.
Given the depleted state of the Red Sox starting rotation with Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez sidelined for different reasons, the Florida native appeared primed for a bounce-back year in 2020 while primarily operating as a back-end starter.
Alas, that possibility never came to fruition, as Johnson was not named to Boston’s Opening Day roster in late July and was instead sent off to Pawtucket.
A little over two weeks had passed since the 2020 major-league season had kicked off, and still nothing. Johnson found himself toiling away at McCoy Stadium, wondering if he was going to get another shot anytime soon with the team that had drafted him eight years ago.
When August 10 arrived, it was first reported that Johnson had left the alternate training site for an undisclosed reason, but it was later revealed and made official that he had asked for and granted his release from the Red Sox.
“Sometimes you need to go other places to have a better opportunity,” then-Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke said of Johnson at the time. “He asked for his release. Chaim did not want to keep him from an opportunity to get back to the big-leagues. Although we would like him here for depth, that’s the decision Brian wanted.”
Roenicke also cited the fact that Johnson was out of minor-league options and was off the Sox’ 40-man roster as reasons for why the southpaw had slipped down the organization’s pitching ranks.
Johnson himself recounted how things transpired over the summer, from not making the Sox’ Opening Day roster to asking for his release, when speaking with WEEI’s Rob Bradford on the most recent installment of the Bradfo Sho podcast.
“Everyone has a reason for doing things,” he said. “The Red Sox can do what’s best for the Red Sox, and Brian needs to do what’s best for Brian. They just thought going that route was better for them, which I understand. They wanted to see what they had in guys that Chaim brought over, which is totally understandable. I don’t hold any grudge or ill will. The whole process was very professional on both ends. There was no bad blood. I talked to Chaim and [Brian O’Halloran] throughout the whole process along with my agent. Everything was talked out at length and it was very professional on both sides.”
Arriving at the decision to request his release from the only organization he had ever known was no easy quest for Johnson. His path to the big-leagues was filled with adversity both on and off the field, and the Red Sox had helped him fight those battles.
“It sucks, because there have been so many ups and downs in my career with the Red Sox,” he continued. “I said this years ago, that they helped me so much in a lot of ways. So it was like I felt guilty doing it, but at what point in time do you have to do what you feel is right for you? I felt like I hit that breaking point to where I wasn’t doing what I wanted. So I made that decision.”
After not getting picked up by another club over the remainder of the 2020 season, Johnson is about to embark on something he has never experienced before: an offseason without a team to turn to, although he is receiving interest from a handful of potential suitors.
“At first I was nervous,” he said. “But now I do have teams calling to sign me for next year, so I feel more confident that that happens. Once those first few phone calls come in, you feel more confident… What we experienced this year, there’s never been anything to judge it off of, you’re learning as you go, so I was nervous.”
Whichever team winds up signing Johnson, presumably to a minor-league deal, should be something worth monitoring over the winter and into the spring.
As rookie right-hander Tanner Houck prepares to make his third and final start of the 2020 season against the Braves on Saturday, he is also looking ahead to the offseason.
The 24-year-old has impressed during his first two turns through the Red Sox rotation, yielding just one unearned run on three hits and six walks to go along with 11 strikeouts over 11 total innings pitched.
Houck has thrown 171 pitches in those two starts, and according to Statcast, 33% of those pitches have been sliders, 32% have been four-seam fastballs, 30% have been sinkers, and 5% have been split-finger fastballs.
That splitter, Houck’s newest and least-used pitch thus far, is something the former first-round pick is looking to continue to develop over the winter, and he’s seeking out advice from a fellow Red Sox rotation mate in order to do so.
“The main focus is continuing to develop the splitter,” Houck said of his offseason plans when speaking to reporters via Zoom on Friday. “That’s been a pitch that I started throwing during spring training 1.0 of this year. I’ve seen a lot of growth with it. A guy that I’ve talked to a lot about with the splitter is [Nathan] Eovaldi. He’s a great guy to talk about pitching and he has one of the nastiest splits, so I’ve been bouncing questions off him, how he holds it, what he’s thinking whenever he throws it. That’s step No. 1, to just develop that third pitch along with continuing to develop a feel for a two-seam going glove side, a four-seam going arm side, and just being able to move the ball around.”
Per Statcast, Houck is averaging a velocity of 87.1 mph and a spin rate of 1,571 revolutions per minute with the eight splitters he has thrown so far this year. Eovaldi, meanwhile, is averaging a velocity of 87.9 mph and a spin rate of 1,486 revolutions per minute with the 105 splitters he has thrown in 2020.
This isn’t the first time Eovaldi has doled out veteran wisdom to a younger Red Sox hurler, either. Back in August, rookie southpaw Kyle Hart said that the 30-year-old had helped him better understand the system some of the club’s starting pitchers use to scout other teams.