Not much went right for the Boston Red Sox on their road trip to open the season but their bullpen has been a pleasant surprise.
The Boston Red Sox finally got a great pitching performance and it happened to be in the one game that they didn’t use a starter from their vaunted rotation.
Hector Velazquez officially started Sunday’s pitching duel against the Arizona Diamondbacks but was stretched out enough to last only three innings and 39 pitches. He made the most of his limited time on the mound, blanking the opposing lineup while allowing only one hit. Four different relievers picked up where Velazquez left off in what essentially amounted to a bullpen game, combining to allow only three base runners the rest of the game in a 1-0 victory.
This performance exemplifies one of the underrated narratives of the early season. As brutal as the 11-game road trip to open the season turned out, the bullpen proved to be a surprising source of optimism.
Boston’s bullpen enters the day ranked ninth in the American League with a mediocre 3.61 ERA but their core relievers have pitched much better than that. The overall number is heavily inflated by Brian Johnson getting shelled for seven runs in his last relief appearance before being placed on the injured list with a sore elbow. Take that meltdown out of the equation and Red Sox relievers have been lights out.
More from Red Sox News
- Red Sox Nation deserves far more from Fenway Sports Group
- Bizarre trade deadline comes back to haunt Red Sox after Nathan Eovaldi departure
- Red Sox’ Moneyball-style offseason continues with Corey Kluber contract
- Rich Hill’s Red Sox departure puts him within striking distance of unique MLB record
- Red Sox offseason takes another nasty hit with Nathan Eovaldi departure
Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Brandon Workman, and Marcus Walden have combined for 16 1/3 scoreless innings this season. They have racked up 18 strikeouts with only three walks. Colten Brewer has been a welcome new addition to the bullpen with only one run allowed and seven strikeouts over 4 1/3 innings. Heath Hembree (3.38 ERA) remains solid in middle relief. Tyler Thornburg was a dumpster fire in spring training and made his season debut by allowing a pair of runs in Seattle but has followed with three consecutive scoreless appearances, suggesting he may not be a lost cause after all.
The Red Sox rotation has produced only one quality start through 11 games with starters often failing to make it through five innings. That has put a lot on the shoulders of their relievers yet they have been up to the task.
The sample size remains small but there’s at least a handful of relievers that are carving out roles in this bullpen by gaining the team’s trust. Manager Alex Cora still refuses to anoint a closer and he may not need to with the surprising depth he has at his disposal. Some days it will be Barnes in the ninth, other times he’ll be called upon in a more important situation earlier in the game. As long as the other guys continue to show they are capable of getting outs, Cora isn’t worried about who is left in the bullpen to handle the ninth if he has to burn Barnes early.
The bullpen was supposed to be a weakness entering the season but it has arguably been their greatest strength so far. The starting pitchers on this staff are too talented to fail this much so there is no doubt they’ll turn things around soon. If this bullpen is still thriving when the quality starts come rolling in, this Red Sox team is going to be awfully difficult to score against.