Production has been disappointing from the Boston Red Sox relievers battling for roles in the bullpen, making it difficult to determine the new hierarchy.
Let’s preface this by acknowledging that it’s still early and the Boston Red Sox have plenty of time to sort out this mess. Yet with the bullpen being the only glaring weakness for the defending champs, it’s discouraging to see how poorly their relief options have performed this spring.
With Craig Kimbrel stranded in free agent purgatory, the Red Sox will need to anoint a new closer. The relievers returning from last year’s roster are unproven in the role or bogged down by enormous questions marks regarding their health or performance. Choosing a closer will have a trickle-down effect that may alter the roles of everyone else. Spring training provides an opportunity for open auditions to determine the new bullpen hierarchy yet so far, nobody has stepped up to claim the coveted closer job.
Matt Barnes, the presumed favorite to ascend to the ninth inning role, has allowed three runs on four hits in only one inning of work this spring. Ryan Brasier, his primary competition, hasn’t pitched in a game yet after dealing with a toe injury early in camp. Steven Wright is facing another suspension. Tyler Thornburg is continuing his annual trend of resembling a dumpster fire every spring.
The ERAs of the relievers expected to be competing for a bullpen role is stomach-churning.
Matt Barnes, 27.00 ERA in 1.0 IP
Tyler Thornburg, 15.75 ERA in 4.0 IP
Brian Johnson, 10.80 ERA in 3.1 IP
Hector Velazquez, 10.80 ERA in 6.2 IP
Brandon Workman, 7.20 ERA in 3.0 IP
Colten Brewer, 7.20 ERA in 5.0 IP
Jenrry Mejia, 6.00 ERA in 3.0 IP
Yes, it’s early. Yes, the sample size is small. Yes, it will get better. But for every reliever in the mix for a late-inning role to be struggling this much? The obvious disclaimers of the current date on the calendar are hardly comforting. It may be early but if everyone in the bullpen was producing this poorly three weeks into the regular season, Red Sox fans would be freaking out. These exhibition games ultimately don’t matter in the standings but these performances do matter when it comes to building the bullpen for Opening Day.
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A handful of Red Sox relievers remain scoreless in their appearances this spring but none of them are currently on the 40-man roster and probably won’t be anytime soon. Travis Lakins has shown glimpses of his potential but isn’t ready for the big leagues yet. Bobby Poyner and Marcus Walden are on the outskirts of contending for a roster spot. Let’s see if their solid starts continue.
Nothing we’ve seen this spring has helped determine how the bullpen shakes out heading into the season. Those in the conversation to be the new closer have been ineffective or unavailable. Most of the relievers battling for a roster spot have done little to deserve one.
There’s still time for the Red Sox bullpen to get back on track so there’s no need to panic yet. Still, it’s discouraging that none of these pitchers have stepped up to grab the baton. If they falter under the pressure of trying to win one of the late-inning jobs, how will they perform if the role is handed to them? Hopefully, this isn’t a question we’re still asking when the regular season opens later this month.