Red Sox win shows importance of September roster expansion

ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 03: Deven Marrero
ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 03: Deven Marrero /

The Boston Red Sox defeated the Toronto Blue Jays in a 19-inning marathon Tuesday night, highlighting the benefit of expanding rosters in September.

The clock had crept well past 1:00 in the morning here in Boston by the time Mookie Betts crossed home plate to give the Red Sox their tenth walk-off win of the season. As exhausting as a game that lasted longer than your average doubleheader must be, the reinforcements added to the roster this month help mitigate any lasting concerns that may stem from a 19-inning marathon.

The Red Sox used a staggering 11 pitchers in relief of starter Eduardo Rodriguez, covering the final 13 innings of Tuesday’s victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. Only in September will you find a bullpen deep enough to utilize that many pitchers.

Three Red Sox pitchers used in this game weren’t even on the roster before rosters expanded on September 1. This includes Carson Smith, who tossed a clean inning in his first major league appearance since May of last year.

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Normally when a game extends deep into extra-innings there is a reliever who takes one for the team – meaning they’ll be asked to go as long as they can knowing full well they’ll be shipped to the minors the next day to be replaced by a fresh arm for the bullpen. There’s no need for that in September. None of the relievers logged more than two innings in the game.

Brandon Workman and Austin Maddox were both used for two innings of work after being utilized for at least two outs in the previous game. While they may be unavailable for Wednesday’s game, everyone else in the bullpen should be at Boston’s disposal. Blaine Boyer also worked two innings but did so with an efficient 20 pitches. Since he had Monday off, Boyer isn’t necessarily off limits tonight. Fernando Abad has worked in each of the last two games, but faced only six batters and threw a total of 25 pitches in those appearances. He could be used for a third consecutive day, especially if he’s only called on to face one batter with a lefty at the plate.

Instead of scrambling to make roster moves to replenish the bullpen, the Red Sox can enter the next day feeling confident in their available relievers.

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The benefits of expanded rosters aren’t limited to the bullpen. The Red Sox used seven position players off the bench as pinch-hitters and/or defensive replacements.

Clearly, the team doesn’t want Dustin Pedroia playing 19 innings after recently returning from a knee injury. He was replaced by Brock Holt in the top of the 11th. Two innings later, manager John Farrell preferred to use Chris Young against lefty Matt Dermody. Young rewarded his manager with a base hit and was easily replaced at second base by Deven Marrero to start the next inning. Boston wanted no part in Marrero’s anemic bat in the 15th inning, so they pinch-hit for him with Sam Travis. While that move didn’t pan out, you have to like the chances of Travis coming through better than Marrero in that spot. It was the right move with Tzu-Wei Lin available to take over defensively at second base.

Cycling through that many bench players wouldn’t have been possible earlier in the year. The expanded roster allowed Farrell to counter the opposition by making changes throughout the game. None of those moves ultimately led directly to the victory but they were still the correct strategic decisions to make given the available roster.

Many teams that are already looking ahead to 2018 are using this time of year to get a look at fringe players or give young prospects some big league experience. For teams eying the postseason, it’s all about balancing winning ball games with keeping their core players fresh and healthy for October.

A shallow bullpen could force the Red Sox to keep at least some of their relievers in the game longer. A veteran infielder may be in store for more playing time than they’re prepared for in these extra-innings affairs. The heavier workload can make these players more susceptible to injury or limit their short-term availability in upcoming games.

We’re nearly 140 games into the season so it’s only natural for everyday players to be feeling the wear and tear of MLB’s grueling schedule. The Red Sox can’t have their top players exhausted before they reach the postseason, so roster expansion allows them to give those guys a breather down the stretch. Never has this been clearer than in the wake of a 19-inning game.

Next: September Standings Watch

Expect to see at least some of the team’s regulars getting a night off on Wednesday. After last night they deserve it and the Red Sox certainly have plenty of alternative options to turn to when filling out the lineup.