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Red Sox need to figure out what they have in this bullpen

Rob Bradford
July 22, 2018 - 7:56 am

Why Kansas City and the Mets traded two of the top relievers on the market (Kelvin Herrera, Jeurys Familia) when they did is still somewhat of a mystery. Sure, they got deals that probably satisfied what each team was looking for. But what would the harm have been to wait a little bit longer? Baffling.

What you should know, however, is that neither deal should impact the Red Sox' approach heading into the non-waiver trade deadline at the end of the month.

Unless Baltimore puts a deadline for offers on Zach Britton, the Sox should sit back and keep evaluating. There are plenty of relief pitchers to go around, and a bunch of bad teams motivated to move them.

The wait-and-see approach has always been the blueprint for Dave Dombrowski when it comes to figuring out this relief pitching landscape, and not only because it is a buyers' market. The extra time was supposed to give the Red Sox a better idea of just how much they might need another late-inning guy.

It would seem the Sox still should be looking for that guy.

The wild card has always been Tyler Thornburg. The recently-activated reliever has shown glimpses of the pitcher the Red Sox thought they were getting from Milwaukee, but that certainly wasn't the image portrayed Saturday night. The righty came on for Brian Johnson in a two-run game and looked anything but reliable.

Thornburg walked John Hicks after going to a full count before allowing a single to Victor Martinez. After a sacrifice fly by Jeimer Candelario, wild-pitch, and a groundout, Jose Iglesias took the reliever deep to put the game away.

Thornburg has now pitched five times since being activated off the 10-day disabled list, giving up at least one hit in each of the outings. Considering his time off, it's not shocking that the reliever is needing some time to rediscover himself. But the Red Sox were counting on him figuring all of that out before July 31. That is not how things are trending.

There is also the uneasiness in regards to one of their other eighth inning candidates, Joe Kelly, who Red Sox manager Alex Cora noted Saturday would have to earn his way back into high-leverage spots. And with Kelly heading into this week on the outside looking in, that leaves the Sox with Matt Barnes (who has allowed one run over his 12 outings, striking out 24) and Heath Hembree, who has excelled with runners on and against left-handed hitters.

Then there is Ryan Brasier.

The righty has come up after closing in Pawtucket and performed admirably while throwing fastballs near 100 mph. Brasier left yet another positive impression on Cora and Co. Saturday, striking out two of the three batter he has faced. Even if some teammates didn't know his name during those first few days he was walking around the Red Sox' clubhouse (fact), it would be foolish to not consider the 30-year-old a high-leverage candidate.

But while there is potential, the problem for the Sox remains. Other than Barnes, there just isn't a whole lot of certainty leading into Craig Kimbrel. It's a predicament that might just eventually force Dombrowski's hand.

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