Red Sox Built For Early Relief; Farrell Fuels Starter Fire
Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell allowed David Price to continue, when the team’s structure dictates an early relief strategy. Who’s to blame for last night’s loss?
The old proverb that hindsight is 20-20 could be applied to Tuesday night’s loss to the Seattle Mariners; however, the Red Sox could have saved themselves the trouble if they would have followed the strategy that they have been built to use. Boston has seven relievers, all with different skills that have been tested throughout the season. Considering newly-acquired Fernando Abad was brought in at the trade deadline, instead of another starting pitcher, one would think that the Red Sox have decided to follow the latest trend in Major League Baseball, letting the bullpen relieve the starter early in the game.
Tell that to Farrell.
With a 4-0 lead in the eighth inning, Red Sox starter David Price was cruising to victory. That is, until the very next pitch. Mike Zunino scorched Price’s knuckle curve over the left field fence for a leadoff home run. That should have been the signal for Farrell to call for the bullpen. Instead, he allowed Price to throw a combined three pitches that resulted in two singles. Did that get Farrell to pull Price from the game? Nope. Five pitches later, another single blew by to right field, allowing another run to score.
Farrell finally made the change for Matt Barnes to enter the game to relieve Price. Barnes strikes out Seth Smith and is relieved by Abad, who has had great success in the past against Mariners All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano. Ian Browne of MLB.com stated, “It was hard to fault Farrell’s strategy. Cano came in 1-for-11 against Abad.” Until Abad’s own knuckle curve was sent over the wall in right center field for a three-run blast.
The Red Sox couldn’t recover from the traumatic eighth inning and lost the game, 5-4.
Browne added a good point: “Giving up a game-breaking homer on his fifth pitch with his new team is hardly the way Abad would have drawn up his day. But he’s been around long enough to know the next opportunity could come as soon as Wednesday. And it might even be against Cano again.”
To blame any loss on only one person in a team game is usually problematic at best. It’s not like Abad wanted to come into the game with two baserunners and a baseball stud like Cano at the plate, even with his success record against the veteran slugger. The issue is that it should never have come to that situation in the first place.
Price may have thrown only 89 pitches, almost all of them for strikes, before entering the eighth inning, but it’s not like the lefty was working on a no-hitter or a perfect game. In 23 starts, Price has finished the eighth inning six times, earning the win in only three of those games. Four of those six games saw Price give up two or more runs, so the chances that Price was going to get out of last night’s frame unscathed was highly unlikely.
Farrell employed the strategy in 2013 to have his starters outlast the opposition’s starters so that his team’s bats could get to their bullpens and win games late. However, that strategy was due to the fact that they didn’t have a proven reliever whom they could count on, until they threw Koji Uehara out there and discovered World Series gold. After that season, teams like the 2015 World Series champions, the Kansas City Royals stacked their bullpens so that starters didn’t get burned late in games.
The Red Sox brass, seeing how their mighty starting rotation had fallen on hard times since their recent championship season, brought in veteran relievers and cut much of the dead-wood arms off of the roster. Arguably, Boston’s new bullpen is sporting one of the best combination of relievers in the majors: Craig Kimbrel, the beast of a closer; Brad Ziegler, the side-armer and former closer of the Arizona Diamondbacks; former starting pitcher, Clay Buchholz; 2013 set-up man, Junichi Tazawa; Robbie Ross Jr. and Matt Barnes, to eat up some middle innings and clean-up duty; and Uehara, once he returns from injury.
The lefty Abad was brought over in a trade to simply add to this bullpen weapon. His .220 opposing batting average for the last-place Minnesota Twins in 34 innings, before the trade, was reasonably good. It also put him in fifth place on the Red Sox current reliever roster.
With this plethora of relievers, Farrell had many options to use in that fateful, eighth frame. Kimbrel wouldn’t have come into the eighth inning anyways, but he may have had a save situation in the ninth inning. If that were the case, Ziegler should have been the set-up man in the eighth. Ziegler last pitched on Sunday, giving him more than enough time to have been rested for Tuesday night’s eighth.
One could argue that Kimbrel would not have been used in the ninth, as Farrell might want to bring him back slowly, after returning from knee surgery; yet, it would only then be a slight shift in the bullpen, with Ziegler working the ninth in the familiar role of the closer. Farrell would still have Buchholz, who also pitched on Sunday, or Tazawa who made quick work of the Mariners for an inning the night before. Even Barnes, whom Farrell did use with success later in the inning, or any of the other arms could have been brought in at the top of the frame, setting up Ziegler to finish the job in the ninth.
Instead, Farrell stayed with his veteran starter.
Browne reported Mariners starter, lefty Wade LeBlanc’s comments after the game: “Goal number one is to give up no runs, obviously […] Especially when your team’s facing Price. But once, baseball being a game of failure, once you ultimately give up runs the goal is to keep it as close as you can. And with an offense like we have, it’s three runs or less, you’re always in the game.” LeBlanc went only six innings and allowed three earned runs on five hits, one walk, and three strikeouts. Donn Roach relieved LeBlanc and threw two innings, gave up another run, and it earned him the victory over Price and the Red Sox.
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Boston has a whole second half of the season to stretch out Price before the postseason begins. The team is built to give the starters a break, so why not give them the rest that they need and deserve? Price got the Red Sox to a 4-0 lead, cruising through the first seven innings. Why not put the team on cruise control and let someone else drive for an inning or two? Especially when Boston has the arms for it.
If all of that doesn’t convince you, remember this: Price was cruising like a Ferrari down the regular season highway last season, before he got much-needed rest from the Toronto Blue Jays just before the postseason started. Price went on to post a 7.20 ERA against the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series and lost both starts to the champion Royals in the American League Championship Series. One is supposed to learn from history, not doom himself to repeat it.