Boston Red Sox

Red Sox rotation outlook: Can Giolito be the ace Boston desperately needs?

Lucas Giolito and Brayan Bello lead an uninspiring Red Sox starting rotation in 2024.

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Boston Red Sox spring training workouts are set to begin when pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers, Fla. on Feb. 14. Full squad workouts begin on Feb. 19.

Ahead of spring training, we're assessing the Red Sox's situation at each position for the 2024 campaign. We'll break down the players expected to play the position for Boston in 2024, followed by a confidence grade. These positional outlooks will be updated as moves are made in the offseason.

In this installment of the series, we focus on the starting rotation.

Lucas Giolito, RHP

When chairman Tom Werner declared the Red Sox would go "full throttle" in the offseason, fans took that as the club going all out to address its glaring need for starting pitching. The comments seemed to indicate the top options on the market, such as Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Jordan Montgomery (who's still available as of this writing), were in play.

That turned out to be a false promise. Boston's only addition to the uninspiring rotation was Lucas Giolito on a two-year contract worth $38.5 million that includes a player option after the 2024 campaign.

While Giolito is an upgrade, he isn't exactly what Sox fans had in mind as their ace heading into the winter. The 29-year-old is coming off a woeful season in which he allowed the most home runs in the American League (41) and posted a 4.88 ERA. He wasn't much better in 2022 when he had a 4.90 ERA and 1.435 WHIP with the Chicago White Sox.

Guardians pitcher Lucas Giolito
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Lucas Giolito led the American League with 41 home runs allowed in 2023.

Giolito was traded from Chicago to the Los Angeles Angels ahead of the 2023 deadline. He made only six starts for L.A. before being placed on waivers and picked up by the Cleveland Guardians. That's where he made his final six starts of the season, and he didn't finish the year on a high note.

Despite his recent struggles, there's hope that Giolito can bounce back and be the front-end starter Boston desperately needs.

"The Lucas Giolito you're likely getting in my opinion is the Lucas Giolito that pitched really well with the White Sox," NBC Sports Chicago's Chuck Garfien told NBC Sports Boston last month. "He was essentially picking like their ace for the first three months of the season. What happens sometimes, especially for pitchers, when they get traded, they're out of their comfort zone. It's not like a hitter who can just go hit. Who's the catcher? Who's the pitching coach?

"I think what Lucas also did, I think he put a lot of pressure on himself because the Angels acquired him and he's thinking, 'OK, I've got to be the guy that's gotta help (Shohei) Ohtani get to the playoffs.'

Giolito was an All-Star and a sixth-place Cy Young finisher in 2019. He followed that up with strong 2020 and 2021 campaigns that established him as one of the top pitchers in the AL. He'll look to regain that reputation after crashing back down to earth these last couple of years.

If there's anywhere Giolito can get back on track, one would think it would be Boston. The Craig Breslow-led Red Sox are focused on maximizing the potential of their pitchers. New pitching coach Andrew Bailey was held in high regard during his time in San Francisco and could be just what the doctor ordered for a talented albeit underperforming hurler like Giolito.

Brayan Bello, RHP

Bello is still a work in progress at 24 years old, but he was one of the few bright spots during Boston's last-place 2023 campaign. He'll look to make a significant leap after posting a 4.24 ERA and 1.34 WHIP with 132 strikeouts and 45 walks in 28 starts (157 innings).

The Red Sox's former top pitching prospect had multiple signature moments last season. For one, he was a certified Yankee killer. He went 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 15 strikeouts in three starts against New York.

Bello also showcased his filthy stuff in a June 29 start against the Miami Marlins, when he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning. His lofty potential had some even going as far as to compare him to Red Sox legend Pedro Martinez.

Brayan Bello
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Brayan Bello is looking to take a significant leap in his development in Year 3.

Obviously, Bello isn't anywhere close to Pedro's level at this point in his young career. The comparison simply shows how dominant the Dominican Republic native can become if he maximizes his talent. Plus, Martinez has been Bello's mentor over the last few seasons. So while he may never reach Martinez's legendary status, the influence is certainly there.

Bello still has to prove he can be a consistent front-end starter, but he's entering 2024 with an ace mentality. He's working hard to earn the Opening Day nod.

“I think that's a goal that pretty much every starter [has] is to try to compete for that, or to throw the first day, Opening Day,” Bello said at Winter Weekend, per “And that's one of the goals that I have for my career, not only this year but for years to come, to try to be that No. 1 pitcher in the Boston organization, and that's why I want to compete for that spot.”

Barring a late addition to the staff, it'll likely be Bello and Giolito battling for the Opening Day start.

Nick Pivetta, RHP

Pivetta is coming off a fascinating 2023 season. The 31-year-old was booted out of the starting rotation after a brutal stretch and made it clear he was displeased with the demotion. However, he ultimately accepted his new role and turned into one of the Red Sox's most effective pitchers.

Out of the bullpen, Pivetta notched a 3.07 ERA in 22 appearances with 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings. He often followed an opener to give Boston bulk innings in relief. For whatever reason, that strategy did wonders for Pivetta and likely saved his job with the club for 2024.

Red Sox pitcher Nick Pivetta
Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
Nick Pivetta turned his 2023 season around with a stellar stretch out of the bullpen.

A big reason for Pivetta's success was his sweeper, which he added to his arsenal along with his fastball and 12-6 curveball. His strikeout percentage skyrocketed with the new pitch. He'll look to duplicate that success in 2024 with the Red Sox rotation in serious need of another starter who can eat innings.

Kutter Crawford, RHP

Crawford was quietly one of Boston's best pitchers last season. While that isn't saying a whole lot, it's an acknowledgment that he deserves a little bit more love heading into 2024.

The 27-year-old was forced into the rotation with several injuries to the pitching staff. Although there were some rough patches, he produced some seriously encouraging numbers in his 31 outings (23 starts). He struck out 25.6 percent of the batters he faced en route to a 4.04 ERA and 1.11 WHIP.

Kutter Crawford
Lindsey Wasson-USA TODAY Sports
Kutter Crawford deserves more recognition heading into the 2024 season.

One key area Crawford needs to improve in 2024 is his ability to pitch deep into games. He averaged 4.2 innings per start and struggled mightily his third time through the order. As great as his fastball is, he'll need to utilize his breaking pitches more to keep hitters off balance.

Crawford enters the season as a legitimate sleeper. He won't be an ace, but there's a real chance that by the end of the year, we'll see him as the most consistent starter in the rotation.

Garrett Whitlock, RHP

As of today, it appears Whitlock and Tanner Houck will compete for the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation. Both have performed better out of the bullpen in their respective careers, but the organization is preparing them as starters leading up to Opening Day.

In Whitlock's case, the right-hander is coming off a campaign plagued by injuries and poor results. He began the season in the rotation but wasn't the pitcher Red Sox fans grew accustomed to watching in his first two seasons, posting a 5.23 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in 10 starts.

The 27-year-old missed 27 games with right elbow ulnar neuritis and 32 games with an elbow bone bruise. After the second injury, he had a 4.95 ERA in 12 appearances (20 innings) out of the bullpen.

Garrett Whitlock
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Garrett Whitlock wasn't his usual dominant self in 2023.

After three big-league seasons, Whitlock has a 4.76 ERA in 19 starts (90.2 innings) compared to a 2.65 ERA in 80 relief appearances. That's a pretty solid argument to keep him in the 'pen, but the Red Sox may have no better options.

Tanner Houck, RHP

Like Whitlock, Houck will battle for the No. 5 spot in the rotation despite a 2023 season marred by injuries and less-than-stellar starts.

Houck, 27, missed a chunk of the year after getting struck in the face with a comebacker in June and undergoing surgery. He also spent the offseason entering 2023 recovering from back surgery. He ended up making 21 appearances (all starts), posting a 5.01 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in 106 innings.

Tanner Houck
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Tanner Houck will battle for the fifth spot in the Red Sox rotation.

Despite the tough year, Houck wants another shot to prove his worth as a capable starter.

"I want to start. I love starting. It’s what I want to do," Houck said, per "I enjoy starting a lot. I love the routine of it. I know last year was up and down a little bit for me. But at the same point, I feel really confident this year with the offseason I had. Having a true, full offseason of not worrying about my back or anything like that. So it’s been a great offseason and spring training is right around the corner.”

Houck has a 4.17 ERA through 41 career starts (198.1 innings) and a 2.68 ERA in 33 relief appearances (53.2 innings).

Starting rotation confidence grade: D

The Red Sox entered the offseason needing to sign one or two unquestionable front-end starters. They failed on that front with their only addition being Lucas Giolito, a pitcher with solid upside but a lack of success over the last two years.

Perhaps Bello can make a sizable leap and show flashes of ace potential, but even so, this rotation leaves plenty to be desired. The rest of the group -- Pivetta, Crawford, Whitlock and Houck -- would likely come out of the bullpen for any decent pitching staff. For Boston, they'll be asked to eat innings after failing to do so last season.

It's looking like it'll be another long year for this rotation.

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