Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves has his hands full.
Nieves, who accompanied manager John Farrell to Boston before the 2013 season, went from working with a veteran-laden starting rotation to teaching a staff full of up-and-coming hurlers in a matter of days. It’s a challenging situation, especially given that the Red Sox’s future success relies heavily on the young pitchers’ development, but it’s one that Nieves is relishing.
The Red Sox traded four-fifths of their Opening Day rotation before this year’s Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline, as Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront all were sent packing. Clay Buchholz, who has struggled, now represents the unit’s lea
der, with Joe Kelly, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Brandon Workman and Anthony Ranaudo all factoring into Boston’s pitching plans down the stretch.
The final month and a half of the 2014 season marks an opportunity for the Red Sox to see where their young pitchers stand, though there also are some additional obstacles that come with dealing with such an inexperienced bunch.
“You were able to be more creative because, of course, they have been pitching a lot longer,” Nieves said Wednesday on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Toucher and Rich” in regards to working with veterans versus young pitchers. “Now, I catch myself watching our guys a lot more — to keep them on line, to keep them on the right posture delivery-wise and creating not as an extensive plan but a plan that fits them a lot better. I’m actually catching myself watching our guys instead of the other 13 guys that we have to face.
“If our guys are not equipped to throw the ultimate plan of the team, well, then we have to create a plan for them,” Nieves added. “And that’s very important to fit their plan of attack, instead of a pitcher who has more ability to do it because they’ve been here a lot longer, that’s all.”
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said recently that he believes a pitching staff can thrive even without a true ace. It’s possible the Red Sox could add an ace before next season — re-signing Lester in free agency remains a possibility — but Nieves agrees with the GM’s assessment, finding that it’s ultimately the sum of the parts that matters.
“You could always have an ace or actually build up an ace,” Nieves aid. “Of course, I would love to have Jon back. I’m not going to deny that. Working with him is unbelievable. This guy is as prepared as possible. His routine is impeccable and the ability for him to manipulate the baseball is something else. He’s a workhorse, of course. He wants to be out there in the eighth and ninth inning of every outing. And that’s what we’re trying to instill in the young guys here.”
Cherington already has made it clear that the Red Sox plan to be active in the starting pitching market this winter, whether it be through trades or via free agency. There still figure to be spots available, however, and Nieves is working with his current crop to ensure everyone continues to move in the right direction in their development.
“I believe all five guys on our staff, they are our ace that day, whoever it is,” Nieves said. “We expect him to pitch like an ace every time out, no matter if he’s a fourth or fifth guy. And if you think about this, it’s always nice to have aces in the game and in the rotation, but once that rotation the first week of the season goes by, everybody is your ace every day.”
The Red Sox’s biggest ace right now might be the man behind the curtain. Nieves’ job with Boston has never been more difficult or more important.
Photo via Twitter/@TR_Rooney