Boston Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa showing signs of second half fade


Junichi Tazawa is having another outstanding season as the setup man in the Boston Red Sox bullpen, but there are troubling signs that he may be headed for a second half fade.

Manager John Farrell has had to turn to his bullpen far too early in games this season to cover for his starting rotation that ranks dead last in the league with a 4.90 ERA. Boston’s relievers have already racked up the third most innings in the league with 346 this season, but with middling results that puts them 11th in the league with a 3.88 bullpen era.

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One of the few options Farrell has had confidence in during the later innings of close games has been Tazawa, who trails only closer Koji Uehara on the team with a 2.93 ERA. Tazawa has been a trusted setup man in each of the past few seasons, but he seems headed for a late season decline.

Tazawa has surrendered 4 runs in 7.2 innings since the All-Star break and has only had two clean innings where he retired the side in order during that span. While his 2.53 ERA in the month of July is in the range of his production this season, the increase in extra-base hits allowed is troubling.

This month is off to a rough start already, with Tazawa taking the loss in Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay. Tazawa was entrusted to secure a one-run lead in the 8th inning, but ended up taking the loss when the Rays tagged him with a pair of doubles, followed by a bloop single that drove in the go-ahead run. While that game-winning hit could be chalked up to a bit of bad luck, the hard hit doubles that put him in that position fall on Tazawa.

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Tazawa has posted a higher ERA after the break in each of the past two seasons, which coincides with his increasing workload. He tossed a career-high 75.2 innings in 2013, when factoring in Boston’s World Series playoff run, then followed that up with 63 innings last season. This year he has been the team’s most frequently used pitcher with 47 appearances, logging 46 innings, which puts him on pace to set a new career-high. No reliever has been used out of the Red Sox bullpen more than Tazawa over the last three combined seasons, so the burden of that workload may be catching up to him.

Farrell must look to ease Tazawa’s workload down the stretch to avoid burning out one of his top relievers. This is where new additions Ryan Cook and Jean Machi could make a significant impact. Despite their struggles this season with their former teams, they each have experience in late game situations.

Tazawa’s recent struggles may merely be a blip on the radar, but there’s no point in putting him at risk by over-taxing his arm. With the white flag having already been waived on 2015, preserving him for next year is more important than preserving an 8th inning lead at the tail end of a meaningless season.