Bullpen Abundance: plenty of relief options for Sox

Koji Uehara has been rock-steady in the
Red Sox bullpen this season (AP photo)

Jan-Christian Sorensen Contributing Writer

It’s an inexact science trying to predict how Red Sox pitching will go from one game to the next, but the Nation should at least have a sense of optimism about the depth in Boston’s bullpen with less than 50 games remaining in the regular season.

With the recent steady work of John Lackey and Felix Doubront, the acquisition of Jake Peavy and news that Clay Buchholz — who’s been on the shelf since before the All-Star break with a shoulder injury — had a solid session off the mound during a workout today, the starting rotation looks strong. It could further be shored up if Jon Lester makes a return to form throughout the stretch drive in September.

Similarly, there seems to be no shortage of good arms out in the bullpen — and waiting in the wings down on the farm in Pawtucket.

That speaks to the pitching depth in Boston’s organization, especially when one takes into account the loss of BOTH closers Joel Hanrahan (Tommy John surgery) and Andrew Bailey (shoulder surgery) as well as steadfast lefty Andrew Miller, who boasted a 2.64 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 30.2 innings before suffering a broken foot.

On the southpaw side of the ledger, Boston’s bullpen has Craig Breslow (3-2, 2.48 ERA), recent call-up Drake Britton (1-0, 0.00 in nine innings) and Chicago import Matt Thornton (0-2, 3.47 ERA) — although the latter may be moved to the disabled list after leaving Sunday’s game with a right oblique strain — with Franklin Morales (2-0, 7.30 ERA) reportedly ready to return from a rehab assignment. 

The bullpen has right-handed relief options aplenty, highlighted by the rock-solid combo of Junichi Tazawa (4-3, 2.88 ERA) and closer Koji Uehara (2-0, 1.40 ERA). Uehara and Tazawa are ranked 1-2 in the American League in strikeout to walk ratio, while Uehara leads the league in WHIP (0.70) and is second in ERA. Also on the roster are righties Rubby De La Rosa — called up from Pawtucket Aug. 3 — and knuckleballer Steven Wright, who will give the rotation a rest today by starting against the Astros, as well as Brandon Workman, brought back from Pawtucket yesterday.

Both Wright and Workman give the Sox added options as spot starters and innings-eaters in the middle of games.

Wright was the hero — and the eventual winner — in Boston’s remarkable, come-from-behind win against Seattle Aug. 1, holding the fort for three scoreless innings, while he also earned the win on July 11, blanking the Mariners for 5.2 innings in relief of starter Ryan Dempster. Workman, meanwhile, has lived up to his name, going 1-1 with a 3.54 ERA in two recent starts. Against Seattle on July 30, Workman went six strong, striking out nine while only giving up one run on six hits and earning well-deserved attention from the Nation as a viable starting option out of the bullpen in the style of Justin Masterson circa 2008.

The Sox also have righty Alex Wilson soon to return from a rehab assignment, as well as Jose De La Torre, Allen Webster, Pedro Beato and Brayan Villarreal — who was picked up from Detroit in the Peavy trade for Jose Iglesias — ready for duty in Pawtucket. That’s not to mention additional chips down on the farm in journeyman Jose Contreras, Clayton Mortensen, the oft-maligned and mercurial Alfredo Aceves, as well as lefty Ryan Rowland-Smith, who has a 1.58 ERA and 42/14 strikeout to walk ratio over 45.2 innings. 

Another option exists to further strengthen the relief corps — when and if Buchholz returns to the rotation, it could very well make Ryan Dempster the odd man out, and it could make sense to move the struggling veteran out to the bullpen. It’s a role that Dempster has played before: from 2005 through ’07, Dempster saved 85 games and posted a 4.12 ERA working out of the 'pen for the Chicago Cubs before returning to the rotation in 2008.

The Sox still also have the option of making a waiver-wire acquisition by Aug. 31 and adding another arm to the bullpen as September — when Boston plays 19 of its final 25 games against American League East opponents — beckons.

Twitter: @jan_doh