CHICAGO - Last season, the Red Sox' pitching staff was buoyed by the addition of Chris Sale. The August addition certainly didn't hurt the Sox' late-season push.
A year later, the Red Sox might be relishing a similar boost, although this time it likely won't just be the return of Sale.
It's why, even with his team entering its series with the White Sox three games under .500, Alex Cora uttered an aggressive dose of optimism.
"Like last year," the manager said, referencing the possible additions to the Sox' pitching staff as the season progresses. "Obviously, it’s a different record but we are where we are and you look around and you’re like, ‘Yeah, we’re in a good spot. Not great. But we’re in a good spot.’"
The impetus for the excitement?
Let's start with top pitching prospect Bryan Bello.
In his second Triple-A outing Tuesday night, the 21-year-old righty impressed once again, this time striking out 10 over six innings, allowing two runs on three hits for Worcester. Bello threw 97 pitches
"Bello was very good. He's close," said one National League scout after witnessing the prospect in person.
According to Cora, Sale is starting to get some momentum toward a return after suffering a setback earlier in the month.
"Chris threw a bullpen today, 15 pitches. He threw a slider, some changeups, fastballs. His next one is Friday up to 25," Cora noted. "If everything goes well probably one more bullpen and after that live BP, sim game and hopefully we can get going. Talked to him today. He’s in good spirits. He liked what he saw. Spoke to Walter (Miranda), too, about it. He’s very pleased. This rehab stuff is sometimes frustrating, but it seems as soon as he got to the mound he’s in a better place. They both feel like it’s a lot different than last year as far as building up his arm. This is not an arm injury. It went well."
James Paxton has also resumed throwing after feeling discomfort on the outside of his surgically-repaired left arm.
Listen here for the path recently taken by Paxton in the pitcher's own words:
And then there is the ultimate wild card, Bryan Mata.
Mata, who last pitched for Double-A Portland in 2019 due to last season's Tommy John surgery, hit 99 mph in his second extended spring training outing.
"Mata threw two innings today," Cora said. "That’s his second one. It’s been eye-opening what he’s doing down there. Velo is pretty good. So we’re excited about that.
"I think we have some interesting guys besides these two (Sale and Paxton) that can impact this club later on in the season, and we feel comfortable with our pitching depth."