Boston Red Sox bullpen: It’s time to trust Heath Hembree
By Sean Penney
Heath Hembree has been one of the more reliable arms out of the Boston Red Sox bullpen this season and he’s quickly earning our trust.
There aren’t many options who we can trust in the Boston Red Sox bullpen these days yet Heath Hembree is starting to work his way into the picture.
Hembree is a solid veteran reliever who the Red Sox have counted on for 50+ innings in each of the last three seasons yet his presence on the mound rarely put us at ease. He tends to clutter the base paths, he’s prone to the long ball, and he issues too many free passes. His ERA has risen in each of the last three years, from an appealing 2.65 to last year’s disappointing 4.20 ERA.
He may be trending back in the right direction though on his way to career year. Hembree owns a 2.67 ERA in 27 innings out of the Red Sox bullpen. His 4.0 BB/9 remains troubling but he’s offset that by giving up fewer hits. Hembree’s 6.7 H/9 and 1.185 WHIP are his best marks since arriving in Boston.
Hembree got off to a rocky start in April, as essentially everyone on this Red Sox roster did. He allowed seven runs in his first 11 appearances, convincing fans to discard the right-hander into the pile of bullpen pieces they could live without.
A glimpse at what he’s done since then will make you reconsider. Since April 24, Hembree has allowed only one earned run over 15 2/3 innings for a sparkling 0.57 ERA. Only six major league relievers have a lower ERA over that span.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora hasn’t been shy about sending Hembree in during the middle of an inning to escape a jam. The right-hander is holding opposing hitters to a .151 batting average with men on base and a .143 average with runners in scoring position.
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Hembree has inherited 19 base runners this season, only five of whom have come around to score. Three of those inherited runs scored within the first seven games of the season. Since Hembree turned his season around in late-April, his 95.2 Left On Base Percentage is tied for eighth in the American League.
While he recorded the first save of his career last month, don’t expect Hembree to emerge as a closer candidate. Matt Barnes remains the top reliever on this team and will get his fair share of save opportunities, although he’s often used for the most important outs late in games and that’s not necessarily the last three. Boston has cycled through a committee in the closer seat in cases when Barnes was needed earlier in the game. Hembree may pick up another rogue save here and there but it’s not his ideal role.
Hembree should continue to thrive in the role he’s in. A guy who can come in for the sixth or seventh inning. Sometimes he’ll be given a clean inning, other appearances may only be to face a batter or two with the bases messy.
The 30-year old is exceeding expectations and has clearly found his groove in the bullpen. A hint of concern remains that he’ll unravel to revert to last year’s form, or the version of himself we saw to begin the season. Unless or until that happens, consider Hembree in the circle of trust.