Red Sox should have kept reliever Ben Taylor on the roster

Mar 15, 2017; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Ben Taylor (79) against the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park. The game ended in a tie 3-3. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 15, 2017; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Ben Taylor (79) against the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park. The game ended in a tie 3-3. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox optioned right-handed reliever Ben Taylor back to Pawtucket to clear a path for Brian Johnson to start tonight. Was this the right move?

Bases loaded, two out in the top of the seventh inning with the Boston Red Sox clinging to a two-run lead. John Farrell desperately needs a reliever that can escape this jam with that lead intact.

The manager calls down to the bullpen and summons… Ben Taylor?

In what was arguably the most pivotal moment of the game, Farrell showed a tremendous amount of faith in the 24-year old rookie reliever. Taylor went from being called up from Triple-A Pawtucket that morning to being thrust into a clutch moment with the game on the line.

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Taylor gave up a base hit to Steven Souza that drove in a run and kept the bases loaded. Most managers would have given the young reliever a quick hook at that point, yet Farrell stuck with Taylor to face the left-handed Logan Morrison, despite having a pair of lefties waiting in the bullpen. The risk paid off, as Taylor got Morrison to fly out to end the inning and the Red Sox would go on to hold the lead in a 4-3 victory.

This discussion isn’t aimed at criticizing Farrell for his bullpen management, which has become a common trend with Red Sox fans. His plan worked, so we can’t complain too much. The real question is that if Farrell trusted Taylor with the game on the line, then why isn’t the right-hander still on the roster?

It turns out that Taylor’s latest stint in the big leagues would be more short-lived than his first one. The intention all along was to bring Taylor up only for one day, taking the spot of Eduardo Rodriguez while he was away on paternity leave. The team optioned Taylor back to Pawtucket Tuesday morning in order to call up Brian Johnson, who will take Rodriguez’ turn in the rotation.

Clearly a member of the bullpen had to be bumped in order to clear a path for Johnson to be added for Tuesday’s spot start. Someone had to go, but it shouldn’t have been Taylor.

You know who should have been shipped out instead? Fernando Abad. The seldom used lefty has made only two appearances this season, both in mop-up duty, and has allowed a run on three hits and a walk over two innings of work.

The problem with Abad is that Farrell doesn’t seem to understand how to use him. He was lights out against left-handed hitters last season, holding them to a .153 batting average and .459 OPS. He was lit up routinely by right-handed hitters, which Farrell didn’t start to recognize until late in the season, resulting in a brutal 6.39 ERA over the 12 2/3 innings he pitched for the Red Sox following a mid-season trade.

So far this season, only four of the eight hitters Abad has faced were lefties. Those left-handed hitters have actually done a bit more damage than the right-handers, going 2-for-4 with a double and a walk against him. However, the larger sample from his career shows Abad can be dominant against lefties and struggles with right-handers. I’ll trust the larger sample size in this case.

The only purpose Abad serves on this roster is to come in for a batter or two to shut down left-handed hitters. If Farrell couldn’t trust him in a jam against the lefty Morrision, when can he use him?

It’s telling that Farrell trusted an unproven right-handed rookie to face the most dangerous lefty in Tampa Bay’s lineup over sending in Abad to do the one thing he’s on the roster to do. If Abad is going to be relegated to pitching only in blowout losses, there’s no point in him taking up a roster spot that could be given to Taylor, who has clearly earned the manager’s trust.

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Unfortunately, the decision to send Taylor back to Pawtucket had nothing to do with what’s fair or even what’s in the team’s immediate best interests. Taylor still has minor league options, allowing for a seamless roster move. Abad does not have options, so the only way they could send him down to Triple-A would be to designate him for assignment, which would risk losing him to another organization.

Fine, let another team swoop in and take Abad off our hands. A reliever that can get lefties out has value in this league, so surely another team would give him a shot if they wouldn’t have to give up anything to get him. Abad can still fill a valuable role, but Farrell clearly doesn’t trust him enough to do it here.

The Red Sox have two other lefties in the bullpen, so they don’t need a third that should only be used against left-handed hitters. Robbie Ross is about equally as reliable against lefties as Abad, while proving last season that he’s not useless against right-handed hitters. If the Red Sox want a lefty specialist to get those tough outs against lefties then they have Robby Scott, who is clearly ahead of Abad in the bullpen hierarchy. While Scott hasn’t been used exclusively against lefties, he hasn’t allowed a hit to any of the five left-handed hitters he’s faced this season and clearly seems capable of filling that role.

That leave Abad as the odd man out. With no clear role available for him out of the bullpen, it’s time for the Red Sox to cut bait with the southpaw in order to give Taylor a chance to thrive.

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The Red Sox had to make a roster move today in order to add Johnson. They simply made the wrong move.