Red Sox reliever Josh Taylor emerging as an invaluable bullpen arm

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 6: Josh Taylor #38 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the New York Yankees during the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium on June 6, 2021 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 6: Josh Taylor #38 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the New York Yankees during the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium on June 6, 2021 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images) /

Red Sox lefty Josh Taylor has been lights out during scoreless streak

We were only a few weeks into the season when fans began to grumble about dumping Josh Taylor. Now we can’t imagine the shape the Boston Red Sox bullpen would be in without him.

The lefty got off to a miserable start this season, surrendering at least one run in each of his first three appearances. That included a total of five earned runs over his first two outings that combined for only one full inning while the Red Sox were swept by the Baltimore Orioles to open the season. Taylor owned a brutal 9.72 ERA through his first 8 1/3 innings and patience was quickly wearing thin.

In retrospect, it probably shouldn’t have surprised us that Taylor wasn’t sharp out of the gate. This is a pitcher who was limited to only eight games last season after battling COVID and he clearly wasn’t at full strength during that limited action when he produced a 9.82 ERA. Some of that rust carried over to this season but it didn’t take long for him to shake it off.

Dating back to his final appearance in the month of April, Taylor has strung together 18 consecutive scoreless appearances to lower his ERA to a respectable 3.63.

His 1.478 WHIP seems problematic but it’s heavily inflated from his rough patch to open the season. Taylor has held opposing hitters to a .149 batting average since his scoreless streak began on April 30, ranking 7th among American League relievers over that span.

His control was erratic earlier this season but Taylor has harnessed his command during this streak. After walking five batters in his first 8 1/3 innings, Taylor has issued only four free passes while striking out 18 batters over his last 14 innings.

Taylor provided his latest heroics in Monday night’s win against the Toronto Blue Jays. Nathan Eovaldi was the stopper the Red Sox desperately needed after getting battered around by the Blue Jays in the previous two games but he ran into a jam with the two outs in the seventh inning and the tying run on third base. Nasty Nate was only at 81 pitches in an economical effort but it was Taylor who Red Sox manager Alex Cora trusted to preserve the lead in that spot.

The southpaw entered to match up with the left-handed Rowdy Tellez, a known Red Sox-killer who has done more than his fair share of damage at Fenway. Taylor struck him out with a filthy slider that has been nearly impossible for lefties to pick up since his return to form. He remained in the game to retire the side in order in the eighth inning, picking up another pair of strikeouts along the way.

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Three of the four batters he faced were left-handed with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. being the only exception when he led off the eighth. Cora wasn’t about to pull Taylor for that one batter with another pair of lefties lurking on deck.

Taylor has been excellent against lefties, holding them to a .220/.238/.244 slash line this season. His .319/.429/.447 line against right-handed hitters looks rough but that’s mostly due to his early season struggles.

While the Red Sox typically save him for when a lefty is due up, they aren’t afraid to keep him on the mound to face a right-handed bat. He’s actually faced more right-handed hitters (56 plate appearances) than lefties (42 PAs). That may in part be due to MLB’s rule that pitchers entering the game must face at least three batters or finish the inning but it’s clear that Taylor is more than a standard lefty-specialist.

The Red Sox currently only have two left-handed relievers in their bullpen. Darwinzon Hernandez can be as wild as he is dominant so his control issues make him difficult to trust late in a tight game. That leaves Taylor as the bullpen’s primary option to face an opponent’s best left-handed bat in a clutch situation.

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He wouldn’t have been in consideration to be called in with the game on the line in April but Taylor has since earned that level of trust. That makes him one of the more invaluable members of this bullpen and a pitcher the Red Sox will need to lean on in tough spots.