Boston Red Sox Dave Dombrowski: Koji the closer, but he needs help


Boston Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski spoke to the media on Tuesday afternoon about the current and future state of the club. Those with any past experience of such an event will know that actually precious little of note not already known, or at least surmised would be mentioned. Not much changed here, except of course the guy in the seat. Dombrowski, ever the professional, did his best to appear transparent while simultaneously being as opaque as the Green Monster.

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Dodging reporters’ questions as if they were a lunging Chase Utley, Dombrowski provided more possibilities than eventualities, more maybe than definitely. Some confirmation was provided however regarding the fate of Red Sox closer and fan favorite Koji Uehara in 2016. He will be the closer, Dombrowski confirmed. However, he plans to cover the bases in the case of another season-ending injury as the 40 year old experienced this year.

"“I’m also concerned if the same thing happens this year, if we have an injury, Tazawa is much more comfortable pitching the eighth inning instead of the ninth inning. As you know, he mixed and matched and Robbie Ross did a good job for us. But to say we’re going to put that on (Uehara’s) back completely going into next year, I would hope we could find somebody else in that regard.”"

Dombrowski’s point is well made. In 2013 the last three outs at Fenway had their name officially changed from “The Ninth Inning” to “Koji Time”, a moment when reporters the country over could without any hesitation send their “Red Sox Win!” news story to the press. He wasn’t just dominant, he was unhittable on a historical level. His 1.09 ERA was complimented by a baseball record setting 0.53 WHIP and a 38.1% strikeout rate, which saw him set a club record of 37 consecutive outs. Last year his fastball usage dropped, as did his production, but with its reintroduction in 2015 Koji was looking as automatic as ever.

That’s all well and good, but a ball hitting his right wrist on August the 7th as he closed the door on the Detroit Tigers saw the door close on his season. Without Koji Time the last three outs went back to being the ninth inning and, as is the way, we realized all too painfully what we were missing. Blown saves by set up reliever Junichi Tazawa and July 28th acquisition and Pablo Sandoval lookalike Jean Machi served as a reminder that the Boston bullpen’s holes were perhaps what contributed more than anything to the sinking of the 2015 ship.

Dombrowski, while acknowledging Koji’s talent and potential, wants to prevent that same situation happening again. Not only as a result of 2015, but it should be obvious that while the soon-to-be 41-year old remains one of the most dominant relievers in baseball, he certainly won’t be one of the most durable. Dombrowski thus has no qualms about having Koji be the closer, but feels that having that safety net of another  potential closer, who could also be an interim 7th inning reliever, would ease the pressure on both Uehara and Tazawa in his role in the 8th.

"“People have told me that he (Uehara) can fit different roles. But you also feel comfortable that he can close games at this point in his career. I would hope that we could find somebody else to help in that regard.”"

With Boston relievers collectively languishing with a MLB 26th Ranked 4.17 ERA, Dombrowski knows he has his work cut out for him and if the Red Sox are going to compete next year then a stronger foundation in the bullpen will be necessary.

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