Red Sox Bullpen Woes Continue

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It’s a new season, but it appears that an old problem has returned in the early going for the Red Sox.  Yes, it’s only Spring Training and the games don’t really mean anything.  However, after the departures of Joe Kelly and former closer Craig Kimbrel, and the lack of any significant additions to the staff, it was hoped that some of the returning relievers would step up to claim a late inning role.  With one week left before opening day, that has yet to happen.

Photos courtesy of nbcsports.com
Going into the game Wednesday night against the Orioles, of the ten Red Sox relievers with prior major league experience, only Heath Hembree and non-roster invitee Jenrry Mejia have ERAs below 4.00 (Hembree gave up a homer and Mejia gave up two runs in one inning of work each Wednesday against the O’s).  Overall the group is sporting a 7.51 ERA, with a 1.79 WHIP and a 3.51 BB/9.  Those numbers don’t exactly instill confidence.

Here’s a breakdown of the numbers for the relievers vying for a roster spot (npt including Wednesday night's game).

GP
IP H ER BB BB/9 K K/9 WHIP ERA
Heath Hembree 2 1.2 0 0 3 16.2 4 21.6 1.80 0.00
Jenrry Mejia 6 6 3 2 1 1.5 7 10.5 0.67 3.00
Colten Brewer 7 8 7 4 6 6.8 7 7.9 1.63 4.50
Brandon Workman 7 7 10 4 1 1.3 13 16.7 1.57 5.14
Bobby Poyner 6 7.2 9 7 3 3.5 5 5.9 1.57 8.22
Matt Barnes 4 4 8 4 2 4.5 6 13.5 2.50 9.00
Ryan Brasier 1 1 2 1 0 0.0 1 9 2.00 9.00
Hector Velazquez 4 8.1 17 9 1 1.1 8 8.6 2.16 9.72
Brian Johnson 4 7.2 13 9 2 2.3 7 8.2 1.96 10.57
Tyler Thornburg 5 5 10 7 3 5.4 4 7.2 2.60 12.60


To make matters worse, Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier, the two names mentioned most often as the heir apparent to Kimbrel in the closer role, both have a 9.00 ERA.  Brasier has only pitched one inning after recovering from an infected toe, but Barnes has pitched four innings with disastrous results.  In his last outing Monday against the Twins, Barnes allowed a pair of runs, one earned, before receiving a mound visit from Pitching Coach Dana Levangie in which Barnes claims Levangie had allegedly detected that Barnes was tipping his pitches.  After the adjustment was made, Barnes was more effective in getting out of the inning.

"I was tipping," Barnes told RotoWire. "He (Levangie) told me, and I was able to fix it right away. It doesn't matter how good your stuff is, if they know what's coming, it's going to get hit. I feel like stuff-wise today was great, and then the swings I got on pitches following the mound visit were more in line with how I felt about my stuff."

If this sounds familiar, remember we heard the same thing about Kimbrel during last year’s playoff run.  Kimbrel seemed to bounce back early in the World Series, but his struggles continued and Chris Sale was called upon to get the final three outs in deciding game.  Barnes will likely have two or three more outings before Opening Day to show if he has shaken the problem.

Boston Red Sox 2018 World Series ChampsThe Red Sox are expected to carry thirteen pitchers to start the season because of the schedule which will have the team playing eleven consecutive games without an off day.  It is extremely rare to not have a day off to start a season, but with four games in Seattle, four in Oakland and three in Arizona, there are no chances for rain to mar Opening Day ceremonies, thus no scheduled off days for a makeups.  Starting pitchers will be limited to 80 to 90 pitches, which will put a greater than normal load on the bullpen.

Manager Alex Cora has also stated that he will use a sixth starter during the early stretch so as not to overwork his five usual starters.  This means either Brian Johnson or Hector Velazquez is likely to get the nod in the second game of the Oakland series.

With a thirteen man pitching staff and five established starters, this leaves eight openings for the bullpen.  Barnes, Brasier, Hembree, and Johnson appear to be locks.  Though Johnson has not pitched well (10.57 ERA and 13 hits in 7.2 IP), he is out of options and can’t be sent down without the risk of being lost through a waiver claim.  Tyler Thornburg (12.50 ERA and 10 hits in 5 IP) is also out of options, and Dave Dombrowski is not likely to give up on him after trading away Travis Shaw to acquire him.  Thornburg also has closing experience.  Velazquez still has minor league options, but should also stick due to the tough opening schedule.

With the six relievers above apparently in, only two spots remain.  Like Johnson and Thornburg, Workman is also without options.  He hasn’t been lights out this spring (5.14 ERA in 7 IP), but his experience should earn him a spot.

The final spot in the bullpen may come down to Mejia, newly acquired Colten Brewer, and left-hander Bobby Poyner, who impressed enough last spring to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster.  Mejia has been the best of the lot, but he is not on the 40 man roster and his placement on the roster would require the release of another player.  This could happen if one of the catchers are dealt before Opening Day without a return of a Major League player.

Poyner has not pitched particularly well this spring (8.22 ERA in 7.2 IP), but he offers an option of another left-hander with Johnson expected to be a swing starter.  Brewer, with options remaining, likely starts the season in Pawtucket as insurance in case of injury.

Prospect Darwinzon Hernandez has gotten a large chunk of work this spring and has opened some eyes with a 0.90 ERA in 10 IP.  With virtually no experience above Single A, he will most assuredly start the season in AA Portland, where he will be groomed for a mid-season call up.

Looking at the numbers, is there much to be encouraged by from this group?  It serves as a stark contrast to the Yankees, who made acquisitions for their bullpen to reinforce what was already a team strength.  The AL East could certainly come down to who gets the better performance from their bullpen.

One final thought on Barnes in the closer role.  NESN ran an interview with him during one of the weekend games in which Barnes discussed the possibility of replacing Kimbrel in the closer role.  Barnes made a statement to the effect that “if he were fortunate enough to be made the closer, he would work to the best of his ability to do the job.”  Does this sound like someone who wants the job, or someone who was just begrudgingly elected to be the vice president of his high school class?



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Boston Sports Syndicate: Red Sox Bullpen Woes Continue
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