Red Sox: Heath Hembree’s dazzling relief stint only adds to the enigma

May 7, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Heath Hembree (37) pitches to the Minnesota Twins in the seventh inning at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
May 7, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Heath Hembree (37) pitches to the Minnesota Twins in the seventh inning at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports /

Heath Hembree’s electric “stuff” was on full exhibition in Tuesday’s contest against the White Sox. Unfortunately, for Red Sox Nation, Hembree’s brilliance left more questions than answers.

Upon the commencement of the Bottom of the 6th inning, as Heath Hembree came running out of the bullpen, how many citizens of Red Sox Nation would have bet the proverbial farm that the White Sox would be leading by inning’s completion?

Admittedly, and for blameless reason, I was a member of said group. After all, this did not appear to be the greatest of pitching environments to bring anyone into, especially the struggling Hembree, as the two clubs had combined for 16 runs and 23 hits in a mere 5.5 innings.

However, while the man assigned the unenviable task of hurling the 5.5 oz. baseball towards Home Plate looked like Hembree, and quacked like Hembree, he did not throw the ball in any manner resembling that of Heath Hembree.

Almost immediately, I suspected an impostor. Hembree, or the man masquerading as him, fired his first pitch to Chicago’s Center Fielder, Leury Garcia. Said pitch left a vapor trail in its wake, as a 96 mph missile painted with broad strokes and the cruelest of intentions, dotting the outside corner with the precision of newly calibrated laser. Garcia failed to offer at it and it was called for “strike one.” Hembree’s second offering was an 80 mph curveball that Garcia swung over by quite a significant margin. I was completely unaware that Hembree had such a pitch in his repertoire.

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After two unsuccessful endeavors to persuade Garcia to chase a high fastball and then a slider in the dirt, Hembree struck Garcia out when he swung and missed on a backdoor slider vanishing away from him. I do not recall Hembree throwing three such devastating pitches in the entire month of May, let alone to a single hitter in a single at-bat. It was at that very moment that my initially disastrous prediction for the inning became significantly altered for the better.

After Hembree, or the Bob Gibson-esque impostor, completed his two perfect innings, with three strikeouts, I began to contemplate just who was that masked marvel? The Hembree that I know is incapable of such a dominant pitching demonstration, isn’t he? After all, in the month of May, Hembree has been downright atrocious.

In Hembree’s 14 appearances in the month of May, yesterday’s brilliant performance excluded, the hurler had tossed 11.2 innings. Over the course of those innings, he allowed 21 Hits, an unfathomable 20 runs, (nine earned runs, four unearned runs, and seven inherited runs/10 inherited runners), while walking one, striking out 11, and pitching to an FIP of 5.01. He also surrendered a dreadful slash of .382/.397/.618.

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I would be remiss were I to not inform the reader that Hembree has permitted an American League-high 10 inherited runners to score out of the 19 runners whom he has inherited.

In fairness to Hembree, April was much kinder to the reliever, as he appeared in 11 games, tossed 12.2 innings, while allowing just 10 hits, two earned runs, and, of the 9 runners that he inherited, only three of them crossed the Home Plate. In addition, he walked four batters, struck out 13, pitched to an FIP of 1.93, and limited opposing batters to a slash of .208/.269/.229.

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For two dazzling innings yesterday, Heath Hembree bore a striking resemblance to Bob Gibson, demonstrating three plus pitches and the ability to locate all of them. Hembree’s “stuff” is electric and performances similar to the one engineered yesterday should be the rule, as opposed to the exception; it remains quite the enigma why such is the situation.