If the Boston Red Sox aren’t ready to trust Nathan Eovaldi in a save situation, it’s clear they need to acquire a closer before the trade deadline.
The Boston Red Sox need to acquire a reliable closer to lock down the ninth inning. They also need their current bullpen options to avoid blowing games in order to justify being a buyer. So, that’s the Catch 22 situation we’re in leading up to next week’s trade deadline.
Nathan Eovaldi‘s long-awaited return was supposed to solidify the back of the bullpen yet it’s clear the club doesn’t trust him enough to handle a save situation. That much was proven Tuesday night in Tampa Bay.
Sure, the Red Sox walked away with a win against the division-rival Rays but only after converting one of the ugliest saves imaginable.
The scenario was set up perfectly for Eovaldi to earn his first career save. A comfortable three-run lead with the heart of the Rays lineup having already been put away in the previous frame. Instead of calling on their new closer, manager Alex Cora stuck with Brandon Workman after he breezed through a clean eighth inning with only 12 pitches.
It appeared as though Workman might work around the leadoff single to start the ninth when he retired the next two batters but his rising pitch count quickly caught up with him. He walked two of the next three batters with an RBI single sandwiched between them to shave a run from Boston’s lead.
With one run in and the bases reloaded, Workman was mercifully given the hook. He had thrown 44 pitches, the second time within a span of a week that he’d been asked to carry such a heavy workload.
Was the freshly anointed closer who was expected to be the bullpen’s savior asked to bail the team out of this jam? Nope. Cora confirmed that Eovaldi was available after throwing 24 pitches in his return from the injured list the previous night he still didn’t use him.
"“I’m not going to bring him in the ninth inning there when Work threw the ball so well in the eighth,” Cora explained when asked why Eovaldi didn’t star the ninth, per Masslive.com’s Christopher Smith."
Fine, Workman made the eighth inning look easy so his manager wanted to keep him out there. Cora also mentioned that Workman hadn’t been used since July 17, which was a factor in his decision. Well, the reason he needed five days off was that he tossed 45 pitches in his last outing. He’ll need a few more days off after handling a similar workload last night so one of their best relievers is now unavailable for a few games.
Rather than letting Eovaldi save the day, it was Marcus Walden relieving Workman for the final out. Cora explained that they liked the matchup with Walden against Tommy Pham. It’s worked out for them before – it didn’t this time. Walden walked Pham on four pitches to push another run across the plate. He would get Austin Meadows to ground out, ending the game before completing a horrific meltdown.
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In fairness to these relievers, it never should have been this close to blowing the lead. Michael Chavis made a poor toss to second base after corralling a ground ball from Joey Wendle, turning a double play into a fielder’s choice. If the Red Sox turn two, Workman ends the game by striking out Nate Lowe without much of a threat building in the ninth. There was no error charged since they got one out and you can’t assume a double play but this was still a costly defensive miscue that forced Workman to throw more pitches than he should have been asked to handle.
Cora comes away looking brilliant if his defense doesn’t let him down and the Red Sox win comfortably. We aren’t harping on the bullpen almost blowing another game if they cruise to a three-run victory. The concern here is less about Cora’s decision-making or the performance of the relievers he went with and more about the reluctance to use Eovaldi.
The trade deadline is a week away and the Red Sox still don’t know if Eovaldi is the answer for the closer role considering, well… he’s never done it before. Getting his feet wet in a blowout Monday night was a fine way to bring him back from a long layoff. Avoiding him in a relatively low-leverage save opportunity that should have been a layup is a bit troubling.
Maybe Eovaldi will earn his manager’s trust with a few strong outings. He may eventually thrive in the closer role and solve Boston’s late-inning bullpen problems. We have no evidence that this will happen though and time is running out for him to prove it before the Red Sox need to make a decision on whether or not to make a deadline deal for a proven option to handle the ninth inning.