When the Boston Red Sox pulled the trigger on a deal that sent lefty Wade Miley to the Seattle Mariners, the focus was on reliever Carson Smith. However, the lefty that the Mariners sent to the Red Sox could make a larger impact on Boston’s season. As Roenis Elias makes his Boston Red Sox debut, Brandon Magee looks at how he and the Red Sox got here.
Roenis Elias has been named the Boston Red Sox starter for tonight’s game against his former team, the Seattle Mariners. With multiple options available to the Red Sox for the open fifth starter role, what does Elias bring to Fenway that makes him the preferred option?
The Origin Story
Roenis Elias started his professional career in his homeland of Cuba, playing two seasons (2008-2009) for his hometown team Guantanamo in the Cuban National Series. After defecting, Elias was signed as a free agent by the Seattle Mariners in 2011 where he made a steady climb towards the majors and broke camp as part of the Mariners rotation in 2014.
In his first major-league season, Elias started 29 games, going 10-12 with a 3.85 ERA and a 1.314 WHIP. Elias spent 2015 bouncing between Tacoma and Seattle, putting up a 4.14 ERA in 22 games for Seattle, but a bloated 7.34 ERA in 12 starts in AAA Tacoma.
Elias’s two major deficiencies during his time in Seattle were the home-run ball and free passes. He gave up 31 home runs in his 51 games with the Mariners and issued 108 walks, hit 20 batters and threw seven wild pitches in 279 major-league innings.
A New Beginning?
Elias had a very rough start to his career with the Red Sox. In his first month with the organization, Roenis put up a 0-3 record with a 6.41 ERA over six games – five with Pawtucket and one relief appearance with Boston. In those 26 2/3 innings, Elias gave up 40 hits – including seven doubles and two home runs – and 21 walks. Given the number of runners on base, Elias may have been lucky to only give up 23 runs.
In contrast, four of his last five appearances have been lights out. Over this five game stretch, Elias was 4-0 with a 2.00 ERA. In his 36 innings of work, Elias has only allowed 25 hits – including five doubles and four home runs – and eight walks. Over the five starts he struck out 40 batters. In the four victories, Elias has gone at least seven innings, struck out at least seven, allowed no more than a pair of runs or a pair of walks. In fact, the four runs scored in those four games all came via solo home runs.
His two June starts have been especially fantastic. On June 5, Roenis pitched a nine-inning complete game at the Norfolk Tides. He needed only 108 pitches while allowing a single run and striking out eight. Elias followed that appearance with a seven-inning, no-run outing on the 10th. Roenis allowed seven base runners (four singles, a double, and a pair of hit batters) and struck out seven at McCoy Stadium against the Louisville Bats.
Over his ten games with Pawtucket, Elias has struck out nearly a batter per inning, a substantial increase from his 7.6 K/9 in Seattle last season. His 13 whiffs on May 18 against the Norfolk Tides was the best strikeout performance of his career.
The Red Sox have expressed that part of the rationale for bringing Elias up is to quell the left-handed hitting attack of the Mariners. However, this season’s stats show no major platoon difference. Left-handers are batting .266/.365/.391 against the southpaw and right-handers are batting a nearly identical .268/.347/.391.
In his major-league career, however, Elias has shown to be slightly more effective versus lefties, who have hit .224/.310/.345 against him while right-handers have hit a slightly more impressive .255/.334/.413.
While the Red Sox had a number of options that could have been used for this start, none made as much sense as Elias. Joe Kelly is currently injured. Clay Buchholz has pitched multiple innings only once since his demotion to the bullpen after his May 26 start. Henry Owens, while pitching better than he was earlier in the season, has pitched more than six innings only once this season and has struggled with his control, as evidenced by his 5.7 BB/9 rate at Pawtucket. William Cuevas has pitched well of late – putting up a 1.95 ERA in his last eight starts prior to giving up six runs on Tuesday – but the schedule for this start was not in his favor. Elias’s recent results, left-handedness, and days off make him the obvious choice for this spot start.
Will Elias pitch well tonight? With two seasons pitched in the majors, Elias should have minimal butterflies making his first start for Boston. With a chance to earn a more permanent slot in the Boston rotation, Elias should be eager to show his best form. If he pitches as he has the last month – in particular, avoiding the base on balls – it would not be a surprise to see Roenis shut down the Mariners and earn a second start for Boston.
Brandon Magee is our minor league expert; he has written about minor league travel, ranking prospects, a first round draft pick, and the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.