USA Today Sports

Red Sox offered another reminder this bullpen needs help

Rob Bradford
August 16, 2018 - 6:24 am

PHILADELPHIA -- A loss like the one suffered by the Red Sox Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park probably isn't making Alex Cora lose much sleep. His team still has a 10-game lead on the Yankees, heading home with a 7-2 road trip.

But a red flag was raised in the Sox' 7-4 loss to the Phillies. And it's the same one that Cora and the Red Sox have been seeing pop up way too often of late.

This bullpen remains a mystery, a reality that must be getting somewhat uncomfortable for the Sox and their manager.

This time around the Red Sox turned to Joe Kelly in a tie game in the sixth inning. The result was a run for Philadelphia. Cora then attempted to try a true wild card in the seventh to keep things close, bringing in newly-anointed reliever Drew Pomeranz. That experiment didn't work out too well.

Pomeranz allowed three runs on four hits and a walk in his one inning. It was back to the drawing board for the lefty and his manager.

"I wanted to see how he, in a close game, put him in a high-leverage situation with a few switch-hitters and a lefty there to see how he reacted," Cora said. "He threw the ball well in Baltimore so we trust the guy. Also, we were very yellow and orange in my card (showing relievers needed rest). It’s good to stay away from some guys but at the same time, wanted to see how he would do in that situation."

"I mean, it’s definitely frustrating and I definitely don’t’ feel like the stuff that I have right now is the stuff that I’ve had the last two years and at some point you just have to figure out a way to make it work and stop looking for what’s going on this year and just make pitches," Pomeranz said. "That’s kind of where I’m at right now."

Pomeranz represented an interesting option for a bullpen that had been pitching well without a left-hander for some time. While his results as a starter this season had been brutal, the thought that perhaps the short bursts that come with relieving might uncover the overall velocity and breaking ball bite that we had seen during his 17-win season a year ago.

That really hasn't happened. And it has left the Red Sox still searching.

Ryan Brasier has been a nice story and Matt Barnes continues to be a viable set-up option. But the inconsistency of Kelly, Tyler Thornburg and Heath Hembree was supposed to be a thing of the past by now. It isn't.

Four times on this recent road trip the Red Sox' bullpen surrendered four more runs. There wasn't a single reliever not named Craig Kimbrel, Brasier or Hector Velazquez who limited opponents to a batting average of less than .313 during these past nine games.

It certainly didn't help that the Red Sox' starters averaged just under five innings per start during the trip (with Wednesday night's starter Nathan Eovaldi totaling just 7 2/3 innings in his last two outings). But the larger point is that the Sox need to find certainty no matter the relief-pitching situation.

"Just the workload has been a lot," Cora said. "We try to win every game. Don’t get me wrong. Whenever we have a shot we will. But we’re not going to be chasing W’s either. We haven’t done that the whole season and we’re in a good spot because of that. Today was one of those that when they score a few runs, eh, we’ll see if we can score a few runs offensively but if not we’ll stay with the guys we use."

Finding another lock-down guy from the outside at this point is going to be a challenge due to the waiver claim process, with teams routinely blocking potential relief pitching options before they can get to the Red Sox. A guy like Justin Verlander last year? He could slide through because of his contract. Relief pitchers don't usually have the kind of financial commitments that would make teams shy away from making a waiver claim.

Meanwhile, a team like the A's continue to do what the Red Sox would probably love to at least explore, trading for valuable pieces in the form of former closers Jeurys Familia and Fernando Rodney.

In 2009 the Red Sox made a significant move in getting Billy Wagner to join their bullpen. That trade came on Aug. 25. Such adjustments can happen, and if a similar opportunity arises then this team should jump in. But this is a new year with a new round of relief options in the trade market. For instance, the guy the Sox made a run after at the non-waiver trade deadline, Kelvin Herrera, is on the disabled list with shoulder tightness. That's one off the list. Next.

We've said all along that the Red Sox at least have internal options when it comes to finding some bullpen certainty. That remains true. Maybe Eovaldi, Steven Wright or Eduardo Rodriguez ultimately slide into help. But Wednesday was a reminder that they can't wait forever in figuring this thing out.