Boston Red Sox: Spring Training bullpen competition is heating up

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 5: Kutter Crawford #79 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Cleveland Indians during the first inning at Fenway Park on September 5, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 5: Kutter Crawford #79 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Cleveland Indians during the first inning at Fenway Park on September 5, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images) /
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Three arms in the mix for the final in the Red Sox bullpen

We know how some of the Boston Red Sox bullpen will be aligned to start the season next week. Matt Barnes, Garrett Whitlock, and Jake Diekman are all vying for the closer role. Middle relief pitchers include Ryan Braiser, Matt Strahm, Hirokazu Sawamura, Darwinzon Hernandez, Austin Davis, and Eduard Bazardo. It seems like there are one or two open spots left in the Sox bullpen up for grabs depending on how Manager Alex Cora sees his roster taking shape and three candidates are in the mix for them. They include Kutter Crawford, Hansel Robles, and Derek Holland.

The Red Sox have sent all of their top 30 prospects back to the Minors besides one player who goes by the name of Kutter Crawford. In three games this spring, Crawford has pitched four innings, allowing one run, three hits, striking out eight, and walking just one.

His game against the Pittsburgh Pirates this past week was as dominant as any pitcher has thrown on the mound for the Sox this spring. Through two innings, he struck out five Pirates batters with five of those pitches clocking in at 97 mph or higher.

Cora has given some high praise for the 25 year-old over the past couple of days. According to Chris Cotillo of MassLive, Cora praised Crawford for having “good stuff.”

"“He’s throwing 97 (mph) with a good cutter, good split, said Cora. “He’s in the mix.”"

That splitter Cora alluded to is a new pitch that Crawford has been working this past winter in the Dominican Republic. He has been slowly integrating that fourth pitch into his arsenal that already includes a four-seamer, curve, and cutter.

"“Stuff-wise, he’s one of the best that we have,” Cora said. “We still have a week, he’s still got a few innings and we’ll make decisions when we have to.”"

It will be interesting to see if Cora sticks with the young arm that recently made his major league debut last season. Even though that outing did not go the way Crawford envisioned it would go, Cora still believes in him.

The other two pitchers are in a different predicament roster wise than Crawford is in. According to Chris Cotillo of MassLive, Derek Holland and Hansel Robles can opt out of their minor league deals and become free agents Saturday if they are not added to the 40-man roster by then. This might make the decision for Cora that much easier if he goes the route of keeping both of those arms at the major league level. I do not agree that Holland or Robles should make the team over Crawford, but this might be the route the Sox end up going.

Another reason Boston might choose to keep Holland on the major league club is because Josh Taylor is projected to start the season on injured list due to back issues.

Even though they have four left-handers in the pen, they might want to keep another lefty until Taylor makes it back. Holland could be that guy. The spring training non-roster invitee got the win on Thursday against the Minnesota Twins when he pitched two innings not allowing a run or walk while striking out two.

"“He got here late and he was behind but obviously, a veteran guy. He looks in great shape,” manager Alex Cora said Thursday. “Another lefty. Obviously, at the end, roster spots and all that will come into play regardless of if it was 28 roster spots or 26.”"

Holland went 3-2 with a 5.07 ERA in 39 appearances last year with the Detroit Tigers. He ended up closing the season well with a 0.64 ERA in his final 11 outings. He is a career .500 winning percentage pitcher (82-83 record) with a 4.64 ERA. Holland’s most well known outing came in Game 4 of the 2011 World Series when he earned the win against the St. Louis Cardinals by posting 8.1 scoreless innings as a Texas Ranger.

Robles was with the Red Sox pitching staff last season when we saw Chaim Bloom trade for him while he was with the Minnesota Twins. In a Sox uniform, Robles pitched 25 innings, gave up 21 hits, 10 earned runs, struck out 33 batters, walked another 13 batters, and collected 4 saves.

Besides his scoreless frame against the New York Yankees in the AL Wild Card game, Robles did not have a postseason to remember. He had a 10.80 ERA against the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division Series and lost Game 1 to the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series.

Personally, I would love to see Cora give Crawford a chance to make the Opening Day roster out of this crew. He has shown his improvement with control, added a new pitch over the winter, and his hard throwing heat looks like it would dominate opposing batters. I know it would give the Sox another righty in the pen, but once Taylor comes back from injury the pitching coaches could reassess how they want the pen to look. He is a pitcher who could come into a game and pitch a few innings because of his experience being spread out as a starter. That gives him some added value when Cora needs to call on guys to get outs.

Either way, the Red Sox bullpen will need to step up more than they did last year if they want to win more than the 92 regular season games they did a season ago. We know their offense is going to crush it this year. The question remains how consistent will the bullpen be in terms of getting outs when the Sox need it the most.

Next. Red Sox breakout candidates for the 2022 season. dark