The bizarre new existence of the Red Sox bullpen

Rob Bradford
September 05, 2019 - 9:50 am
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Josh Taylor summed it up after Day 1 of this new world order involving.the Red Sox bullpen.

"More people to talk to," he said. "Less places to sit."

True enough.

The Red Sox are living life with 17 relief pitchers, carrying a total of 21 pitchers overall on what is a 36-man active roster. It is not the most players the Fenway Park home clubhouse has hosted, with that honor going to the 2011 club which boasted 39 active players. But it is the most pitchers. And because of it, things are a bit different out in that thing they call a bullpen.

Let's start with the impetus behind the overcrowding.

"We’re going Winter Ball style. That’s how we’re going to do it," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora prior to his team's win over the Twins. "The games, instead of four hours, they’re going to be five hours. Keep the fans away from the ... We talked about it last night. Obviously it’s not perfect but our starters are not giving us enough. We need matchups, we need arms, we’re going to try to maximize (Colten) Brewer’s cutter and (Mike) Shawaryn’s slider and Bobby (Poyner's) fastball up and (Trevor) Kelley’s side-arm pitches. We’re trying to look for outs. That’s something we talked about last night when I finished here and Dave called me this morning and kind of like, what do you think? I was kind of like, you know where I’m at. Luckily I work in an organization that, we’re not going to tap out, we’re not going to wave the white flag and we’re going to keep pushing."

"Just the way we’ve been going about it, we’re down a starter. Not that we want to pull guys early but we’re also playing to try and win every game and if that means an early exit, OK. We can’t keep killing our regulars," noted Red Sox pitching coach Dana LeVangie. "As much as we trust them in any game we call on them if we keep doing this where are they going to be next year? It all matters. ... We can’t keep doing this the way we’re doing it and we understand that. We can’t ride them to death, which is what we’re sort of asked from them."

So, that leads us to the party down in right field.

For one, the seating assignments have been thrown for a loop. Typically each pitcher is assigned a seat in the bullpen and that is theirs to inhabit over the course of a game. Taylor, for instance, has been planted between bullpen catcher Mike Brenley and bullpen coach Craig Bjornson for the majority of the season. But because both non-players were now relegated to seats on the outskirts of the bench, the Sox lefty reliever had two new neighbors -- Ryan Weber on his left and Bobby Poyner to his right.

Once the group took up shop in the bullpen it was business as usual -- if you're used to doing business in the Mexican Winter League. That was evident in some postgame analysis by a few of the participants.

Marcus Walden: "Winter Ball. Same thing. I'm sure Smitty would agree this was Winter Ball-esque."

Josh Smith: "Oh, yeah."

Walden: "Except Winter Ball only has seats for like six people."

Smith: "If you don’t see two pitchers were half-inning it’s a good one. Imagine the seventh game of the World Series. Matchup, matchup, matchup, but for 60 games. Down there it’s win or get fired."

Walden: "We went through three managers in 26 games."

Smith: "We went through four closers in one week. ... But I’ve never seen that many people in a big-league bullpen."

Walden: "It's not a bad gig."

Next year there won't be this option, with call-ups limited to 28 active players in September, which will be two more than the 26-man total allowed during the regular season. So, soak it in why you can.

"The rules are the rules," Cora said. "Next year, you can’t do that. It’s probably not the first time that’s ever happened in the game, so I don’t feel bad about it."

As long as there are enough seats, why not?