Red Sox offered reminder of bullpen uncertainty

Rob Bradford
February 20, 2019 - 1:49 pm

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- At one point in his media briefing Wednesday Alex Cora offered a dose of reality when asked a roster construction question.

"We're in the first week of spring training ...," said the Red Sox manager.

Fair.

But there can be moments, even this early in camp, where there is a reminder about how blueprints have to be adjusted. There was a glimpse of such a dynamic during this overcast day at JetBlue Park.

First off, one of the candidates to become the Red Sox' closer Ryan Brasier was back in Boston, getting his infected pinky toe examined. It is a setback Cora and Co. continue to downplay.

"I think they're going to change the medicine and if he reacts well to that he’ll come down," Cora explained. "If they give the green light he might come down tonight. We’ll see. I think the appointment was this morning."

Still, the fact that such an important piece of the puzzle has any sort of derailment -- particularly with just one season of success to lean on -- should offer some pause. Much like Brasier's left foot injury last August this could very well be something we barely remember. But there have been plenty of examples where little things like this are looked back as bigger bumps in the road than anyone anticipated.

Then there was Tyler Thornburg.

The good news, according to Cora, was that he was out throwing without restrictions or hesitation. 

"Mechanics-wise, wasn't it great. Stuff-wise, velocity was there," the manager said. "That’s a good sign because it’s not now that, ‘oh my fastball isn’t there, velocity isn’t there.’ Now it’s about mechanics which I think is a positive. Probably for him, it wasn't a great day. But for me just watching, it’s like, OK. He’s going to have good days, bad days, but as long as his stuff stays the same, he’s going to be fine. I’ll see it as a positive. As a pitcher/hitter, if you’re not concerned about velocity and just concerned about mechanics, that’s good."

Overreaction in either direction to such exercises as the one Thornburg experienced Wednesday is silly. But at this point, it would be good for the Red Sox to see Thornburg hit the ground running as much as possible, because if he doesn't that's one less replacement for a bullpen that needs some high-leverage replacing.

Perhaps the Red Sox have fail-safes that are laying in wait. It happened last year with guys like Bobby Poyner, Marcus Walden and Ryan Brasier. That's why we continue to hear about someone like Colten Brewer, the reliever the Sox got from San Diego this past offseason.

"I tried to get him two years ago in my club down there but he threw too hard. His stuff, man. Ninety-four, 95. Good breaking ball," Cora said of the 26-year-old. "It was a good situation for us as far as what I heard and what they said. He was a guy we had been looking for for a while. They had so many guys over there they had to leave some talent off the roster. They had to make some adjustments. I think it was a good deal for us."

They can project Brewer to be someone of importance, but the fact is that he had issues in his first 11 major league games last season. Wednesday was a start in the direction -- particularly considering some of the swings elicited in the righty's live BP session -- but there is still a ways to go.

This was all a reminder that uncertainty is going to be the name of the game for a while.

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