Red Sox suddenly have an abundance of left-handed possibilities for the bullpen. A sidebar to the spring sessions will be the lefty bullpen competition.
The curse of Fenway Park is it was considered a graveyard for left-handed pitching with the looming presence of The Green Monster and right-handed bats that would enjoy gently lifting a fly ball into the accommodating screen. Yankee manager Casey Stengel usually gave lefty star Whitey Ford a mulligan when the Yankees came to town. Ford eventually turned his magical pitching prowess into a Hall of Fame career, but at Fenway? Alas – the nightclub companion of Mickey Mantle went just 7-6 with a 6.16 ERA.
How times have changed from the Red Sox perspective with a swing to the left that would make an ardent socialist envious. The rotation has Chris Sale, David Price, and Eduardo Rodriguez and none are homegrown although Rodriguez did reach pitching maturity in the system. And then the bullpen. Maybe they’ll be a close facsimile of Sparky Lyle?
The Red Sox recently swung the nets out and caught lefty Josh Osich who was tossed to the winds by the Chicago White Sox. Osich will not stir any memories of Billy Wagner or the overpriced Aroldis Chapman as far as a bullpen specialist is concerned, but he does add to a growing list of the formerly rare left-hander on a Red Sox staff. They are now inundated with them in the bullpen. They have promise, a presentable upside, and that most important of all ingredients – they are cheap.
Enter one Darwinzon Hernandez who managed to surface in Boston in 2019. Hernandez is an intriguing possibility for a future role as a possible closer or bridge to closer for wherever one places that bridge. The 23-year-old registers quite high on the new whiff environment in MLB with a 16.9 K/9. Hernandez lives off a fastball (95.6) and a terrific slider and that fits well into a short inning or two bullpen role. Sounds good until the scary part – a 7.1 BB/9. Certainly a work in progress.
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David Ortiz was once a PTBNL (Player To Be Named Later) and so is Josh Taylor who arrived via Arizona to complete the trade of slick-fielding Deven Marrero. This is generally an afterthought player who is viewed as quite expendable, but the Red Sox may have caught a real break.
Taylor took advantage of the Red Sox pitching flux and was summoned from Pawtucket (AAA) for 52 games including a lone start – and starts are always questionable with the opener mentality. Like Hernandez, Taylor throws hard (95), but unlike Hernandez mixes in a slider, curve, and change with a 15.3 SwStr%. Not bad for a 26-year-old castaway. Taylor kept the walks down (3.0 BB/9) and the K’s up (11.8 K/9).
The hotshot possibility in 2018 was Bobby Poyner who showed enough in 20 games to be considered a potential impact for 2019. That, however, went the way of the entire season and Poyner posted a dismal 6.94 ERA. Lousy, right? A 13 game disaster until you notice that his first three-games Poyner was tagged for seven earned runs in four innings. In a September recall Poyner found 2018 and allowed two runs in 10 games (7.2 IP).
The Red Sox will have four lefties in the mix unless they go and take a look at veterans Aaron Loup and Jake Diekman who are now on the open market and probably minor league deal possibilities. Just what will happen to the four in question is all open to spring training results, roster manipulation, and injuries. The highly unlikely is all four remain but all four have options available.
So this spring training one of the early roster clash competitions should be the bullpen with a specific look at the influx of lefties. And, of course, all are cheap and that is in vogue around Fenway Park.