The Boston Red Sox bullpen continues to show up when their starters, like Henry Owens, need some help. The relievers pitch six innings for the win.
This is not so much a game recap as it is a compliment to the Red Sox bullpen as well as a possible epitaph of Owens’ future career in the majors. Ian Browne of MLB.com reported, “given that the Red Sox had a 4-1 lead through three, it’s hard to believe [Red Sox manager John] Farrell had to ask so much out of his bullpen. But lefty Henry Owens (six walks in three-plus innings) lacked command from the start. And when he opened the fourth by giving up a homer to Avisail Garcia, Farrell had seen enough.”
Neither Carson Smith, Koji Uehara, or Craig Kimbrel were needed. “Every reliever on the roster has an ERA of 3.65 or lower,” according to Browne, so there was no pressure to use the three best relievers on the team, last night.
Instead, the job went to Heath Hebree (1.1 innings; five hits; one earned run), Matt Barnes (1.2 innings; zero hits; zero earned runs), Junichi Tazawa (1.0 innings; one hit, zero earned runs), and Robbie Ross Jr. (2.0 innings; zero hits; zero earned runs). Barnes earned the victory, as the Red Sox bats came alive throughout the game to score seven runs in total.
It wasn’t so much the two runs that Owens allowed as much as it was the six walks that frustrated the Boston manager and many Red Sox fans. In recent articles by BoSox Injection, the topic has been about Owens’ command of his fastball, or lack thereof. Last night was the crossroads for Owens, and he couldn’t even get passed the fourth inning without Farrell doubting his stuff.
If it wasn’t for the inconsistency of 2015, where Owens had an even 4-4 win/loss record and a high ERA for how little innings that he would pitch (4.57), comparatively to other starting pitchers, and that trend continuing for 2016 (5.11 ERA), one could argue that the Red Sox bullpen is strong enough to help out a starter when needed. In this case, this is not the Kansas City Royals, using the relievers early to keep a strong presence on the mound when the starter gets tired. This situation is flat-out a case of a starting pitcher not able to get batters out, prolonging innings by giving too many free passes to first base.
Compounding the problem for Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez is coming back soon. He’s another young left-hander, but while Rodriguez was expected to be a 2016 starter for Boston, Owens was the lefty who was supposed to stay in the minors until he was ready to pitch against MLB hitters. Last year, Rodriguez debuted in dramatic fashion, shutting out the Texas Rangers in 7.2 innings of work. He went on to post a 10-6 record with a 3.85 ERA and 37 walks to 98 strikeouts. Owens has 13 walks to only nine strikeouts in three starts, this season.
Once Rodriguez is fully recovered from an injury that he sustained in this year’s spring training, it would be very hard not seeing Owens being returned to the minors. When that day comes, will he ever come back? So far, the Red Sox starters have been surviving. Each of them has had a bad start, but they have also followed it up with really good starts. The bullpen looks dominant, with no signs of slowing down. Owens would likely stay in the minors for the rest of the season, if that continues to be the case. He isn’t pitching better than the other starters and he looks fragile compared to the other relievers; there just isn’t going to be any room for Owens in Boston’s plans if nothing changes.
However, this is still the Boston Red Sox and 2015’s pitching staff disaster is still fresh in some minds of Red Sox Nation. Anything could still happen, so let’s not hold our breath on that whole dominance thing just yet.