FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — The “no vacancy” sign is up for the Red Sox rotation.
With five veteran starters, the World Series champions have no openings. But if they did, there would be several outstanding young candidates competing for them — and others not too far away.
Coming off a brilliant postseason, Jon Lester leads the starting staff after pitching a career-high 213 1-3 innings. Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront complete the group that should have little trouble weathering Ryan Dempster’s decision not to play in 2014 for physical and personal reasons.
Brandon Workman heads the young group after a year in which he wasn’t even in the major league camp yet went 6-3 with the Red Sox. Manager John Farrell showed faith by having him pitch the eighth inning — he retired St. Louis in order — of Boston’s clinching Game 6 of the World Series.
The more pitching, the better.
“I don’t think any of us have any false confidence or an embarrassment of riches because we’ve seen that pitching is a game of attrition,” Farrell said Friday. “We went through 20-something relievers last year so we were fortunate, with the exception of maybe Clay’s situation, we were relatively healthy in the rotation. But that can change in a moment’s notice.”
Like when Dempster surprised management about two weeks ago with his decision not to play the final year of his contract.
So the Red Sox added left-hander Chris Capuano to work in the bullpen and as insurance for the rotation.
The starting staff “could definitely be as good as any I’ve been on,” said Lackey, entering his 12th season. “We were the last ones standing last year, so that says something.”
Lackey missed the 2012 season following Tommy John surgery, had a 3.52 ERA and then allowed one run in 6 2-3 innings of Boston’s 6-1 win that clinched its third championship in 10 years.
They did it even though Buchholz, who went 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA, was sidelined for three months. So they got Peavy from the Chicago White Sox at the trade deadline to fill his spot.
“I love the fact that we have a ton of experience, a ton of depth,” Peavy said. “I think we have one of the best staffs in baseball and can pitch with anybody.”
Then there are the youngsters.
Workman started just three of his 20 games, but Farrell is preparing him to start and adjust that if necessary. Others with a chance to show they could be effective starters this year are Drake Britton, Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa. Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo and Henry Owens are just behind them.
“Any time you have stiff competition internally, it’s always a good thing,” Farrell said. “The more you have, the more it brings out of the individual.”
Lester has been in the rotation the longest and is taking on the role of staff leader that Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett held in his early years.
“Now you’re getting old. Now you’re that guy,” said Lester, who turned 30 on Jan. 7. “I remember being in their position, following the other older guys around.”
He can help the youngsters not only with pitching tips but with off-field concerns, such as how much to tip clubhouse assistants on the road.
“It’s good. It’s a different chapter in my life now, a different chapter in my career, and, hopefully, I can be that guy,” said Lester, who allowed just one run in winning his two World Series starts. “I can help the guys make that transition and feel comfortable with it because we’re going to need them.”
Ranaudo began last season rooming with Workman and Britton at Double-A Portland, then watched them contribute to a championship. He’s hoping this could be his year to break through.
“The biggest thing for us young guys is just to watch how the veterans go about their daily routine,” Ranaudo said, “just kind of pick up some of the stuff that they’re doing and what’s made them successful.”
Lester, Lackey, Peavy and Doubront all were durable last season, but that could change.
“Our guys threw a lot of innings last year, so we’re going to need the depth to take some of the weight off them,” catcher David Ross said. “There’s a lot of things that have to go right for us, but I like the depth we have.”