USA Today Sports

Red Sox 5, Yankees 4: Even with J.D. Martinez saving the day, there’s officially a bullpen issue

Ryan Hannable
May 10, 2018 - 11:25 pm

NEW YORK — Thankfully, the Red Sox have J.D. Martinez on their side.

Martinez snapped a 4-4 tie with a solo homer to right in the top of the eighth inning, which proved to be the game-winning hit in the Red Sox’ 5-4 win over the Yankees Thursday night.

"I hit it, and I was like blowing, praying, doing everything I can to push it over," Martinez said. "I knew it had a chance.”

(Click here for a complete game recap.)

While the Red Sox came away with a win, and are back to a tie for first place in the AL East, the biggest takeaway is there’s a major problem in the bullpen. Manager Alex Cora doesn’t have anyone he can count on before Craig Kimbrel at the end of the game.

Wednesday, the Red Sox had a 6-5 lead in the eighth, but Matt Barnes and Kimbrel combined to allow four eighth inning runs and it turned into a 9-6 loss. Thursday, the Red Sox had a 4-0 lead in the seventh, but Health Hembree and Joe Kelly combined to allow four runs in the frame, which came before Martinez’s game-winning homer.

After a dominant five shutout innings from starter Eduardo Rodriguez, it seemed the Red Sox were well on their way to a fairly easy win, but then came the seventh.

Following Hembree allowing two singles, he then walked the next batter to set up bases loaded and the top of the Yankees order coming up with one out. Cora called upon Kelly to try and get out the mess, but he couldn’t deliver.

Kelly walked Brett Gardner on four pitches to score the first run. Aaron Judge then singled in another run, which was followed by a fielder’s choice from Didi Gregorius to make it a 4-3 game, and then came a wild pitch to knot the game at four. 

It is worth noting Kelly did bounce back with a scoreless eighth following Martinez’s homer, and Kimbrel earned the save against the top of the Yankees order, but the prior inning cannot be dismissed.

"For me, it’s like, ‘Oh, God, here we go again,’" Cora said. "I think they’re No. 1 in OPS against relievers. They’re the best offense in baseball after the seventh inning. The guys grinded it out, honestly. Joe comes in, he struggles, and then he goes out in the eighth and he did a good job. Kimbrel, 3-2 count, just like yesterday to Gardner, he beats him with a fastball. He beats Judge. He beats Didi. For how crazy that seventh inning was, it was one of those, for whatever struggle that inning, they did a good job."

Right now, Kelly isn’t the same pitcher he was to open the season. Barnes has had his ups and downs. Carson Smith is still working his way to getting back to 100 percent following Tommy John surgery a few years back, as he barely pitched at the end of last year. Hembree can’t really be counted on in high-leverage situations. Lastly, Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez are more long-relief options/sixth starters.

Not much for Cora to go to right now.

There is Tyler Thornburg rehabbing in the minors, but it’s hard to count on him to come back and get thrown right into high-leverage situations and be the set-up man on a nightly basis. In addition there’s Steven Wright, who appears to be coming back as a reliever, but he's pitched mostly as a starter over the course of his career.

So, while the first few weeks of the season went by with really no issues, now that the Red Sox have actually faced some legitimate teams, it’s becoming clear the bullpen needs to be better.

How that happens remains to be seen.

The Red Sox are a perfect 7-0 in games Rodriguez pitches this year, which is the best streak in the majors.