Here’s why the Boston Red Sox have activated Heath Hembree from the 10-day injured list despite plenty of bullpen depth and a week left in the season.
There’s no such thing as too much pitching depth, right? The Boston Red Sox are putting that theory to the test by adding Heath Hembree to an overcrowded bullpen.
The team announced prior to Monday’s game that Hembree has been activated from the 10-day injured list. The right-hander has been sidelined since early August with a recurrence of the elbow soreness that bothered him the previous month.
Boston’s bullpen now has enough arms to invade a small country. With only about a week remaining in the season, there’s limited opportunity to use all of their relievers. So what was the point of activating Hembree rather than allowing him to get a headstart on his offseason routine?
The decision is all about next year. The Red Sox need to get a glimpse of how Hembree has recovered from his elbow issues to determine how he may factor into the future.
Hembree was a solid middle reliever for a four-year stretch from 2015-2018. He posted a 3.54 ERA and was capable of handling a heavy workload. However, he allowed too many base runners and a 4.19 FIP that was well above his ERA raised some red flags. Even when he was producing solid results, Hembree couldn’t easily be trusted.
That started to change earlier this season. Hembree was on his way to a career year before landing on the injured list, posting a 2.51 ERA through 28 2/3 innings. The Red Sox bullpen struggled to find an identity in the first half of the season but Hembree was one of the more reliable options and manager Alex Cora began trusting him in high leverage situations.
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He returned in early July following nearly a month-long absence but clearly wasn’t the same pitcher. His velocity was down and he struggled with his command. Hembree allowed nine earned runs over nine innings before he was sent him back to the injured list.
The Red Sox need to figure out which version of Hembree they are getting back. He’ll be arbitration-eligible for the second time this winter and owed a modest raise from the $1.3 million he’s making this year. If Hembree is the same pitcher we saw in the first half of this season then he’ll be a bargain as a core part of next year’s bullpen. If his elbow acts up again or he can’t regain his velocity and control, Boston will need to consider non-tendering Hembree and replacing him with a younger, cheaper alternative.
Time is running out on a season leading nowhere. This stretch run is being treated similar to the exhibition slate in spring training. Now is the time to get a look at players who may help next year. Hembree could be one of those pieces so expect him to get a few appearances out of the bullpen over the final week of the season.