Red Sox bullpen: Who replaces right-handed pitcher Marcus Walden?

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - APRIL 07: Relief pitcher Marcus Walden #64 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the fifth inning of the MLB game at Chase Field on April 07, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, ARIZONA - APRIL 07: Relief pitcher Marcus Walden #64 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the fifth inning of the MLB game at Chase Field on April 07, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox have sent Marcus Walden packing for Triple-A Pawtucket. Who replaces the right-hander in the bullpen this week?

The Boston Red Sox bullpen is in dire need of reinforcements. The struggling starting rotation has forced the team to rely heavily on their relievers, who have tossed the fourth-most innings in the league this season. The workload is starting to catch up with them. Following a surprisingly strong early-season performance, Boston’s bullpen has sunk to the bottom half of the league in ERA and OPS allowed.

The weakness in their bullpen was highlighted in Sunday’s blowout loss to the Baltimore Orioles when Red Sox relievers combined to give up seven runs. Three of those runs were charged to Marcus Walden, who was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket after the game.

Walden had only allowed one earned run in his first six innings this season. He was hardly the weakest link in the bullpen but after tossing two innings and 41 pitches in his outing against Baltimore, Walden wouldn’t have been available for the series against the New York Yankees.

Boston didn’t immediately announce a replacement on the active roster but will call someone up this afternoon. It’s possible they could promote a position player considering how banged up they are at the moment, which led to some interesting lineup choices yesterday. As long as they get some healthy bodies back for their trip to the Bronx, the expectation is that a fresh arm will be called up to aid the worn out bullpen.

The question is, who gets the call?

One important factor to note is that Boston has open spots on their 40-man roster, which expands the available options. That could make Jenrry Mejia an intriguing option despite that he’s not currently on the 40-man roster. The former New York Mets closer has allowed only one run over 6 1/3 innings while recording three saves for the Pawtucket Red Sox. He has the potential to quickly be entrusted with high leverage situations if the organization is willing to overlook his PED-tainted history.

Erasmo Ramirez is another option who isn’t currently on the 40-man roster. He has the most major league experience among the potential options, although he hasn’t enjoyed many positive experiences lately. Ramirez was brutal during his limited time in the Seattle Mariners rotation last season, posting a 6.50 ERA in 10 starts. Perhaps he’ll fare better as a reliever. His career 4.04 ERA as a reliever is better than the 4.46 ERA he owns as a starter but it’s still not very encouraging. Ramirez has allowed only one run over eight innings in his two starts for Pawtucket so his solid performance puts him on the radar.

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Boston’s bullpen is short of lefties, making Bobby Poyner an appealing option. He had a rough spring and has allowed a pair of runs in only 4 1/3 innings for Pawtucket. It’s hard to say he’s earned a promotion for those efforts but he was solid when given an opportunity last year.

Travis Lakins is a high-upside reliever who the Red Sox hope to count on in the near future but he’s probably not quite ready yet. He owns a decent 3.60 ERA in five innings this season. He has plenty of potential but Boston would be wise not to rush him.

Speaking of prospects with bright futures, the pair of pitches with arguably the most upside in the Red Sox farm system are Darwinzon Hernandez and Durbin Feltman. Both currently reside in Double-A Portland. While it’s certainly possible they could rise quickly through the system, it seems premature for either to make the leap to the majors at this point.

Hernandez has the best chance of any Red Sox pitching prospect to turn into an ace someday so they are better off letting him get more seasoning in the minors and develop as a starter. They may call him up as a reliever later in the season to give him big league experience while limiting his innings total but it’s far too soon to think about that.

Feltman is viewed as the closer of the future. While many are eager for him to ascend to the role considering the Red Sox don’t have anyone locked into the ninth inning this season, the right-hander can’t be rushed. He has a mere three innings of experience above Single-A. Feltman can be dominant but still needs to prove himself as he climbs the minor league ladder.

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If I had to venture a guess, I’d say Mejia is the best choice to call up among the options with potential to stick on the roster. Ramirez could be the choice if the Red Sox only plan for it to be a short stay. Poyner gets the nod if they decide they need a lefty. The other options have their appeal and we may see them at some point this year, but not yet.