Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com (April 27, 2018 – Source: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America)
It’s no secret that the Boston Red Sox bullpen is the weakest part of the roster, but the unit was exposed continuously in their three-game series against the New York Yankees. In all three games, the starting pitching and offense had given the bullpen the lead. And in three straight games, the Sox bullpen blew those leads. Yes, the bullpen is an issue, but fortunately, it’s a fixable one.
How to Fix the Boston Red Sox Bullpen
Currently, the Red Sox have two solid late-inning options in their bullpen. Craig Kimbrel is probably the best closer in the game, while Joe Kelly has been a fantastic setup man this year. The problem comes after those two. The Sox don’t have a guy capable of pitching the seventh inning, or taking the mound when Kimbrel and Kelly aren’t available.
That issue will change soon with the addition of Tyler Thornburg. Red Sox Unfiltered has already broken down everything he brings to the table, but his presence will be a breath of fresh air. Prior to his injury, he was one of the best relievers in baseball. While he may not be that dominant after missing a year of action, he’ll immediately become at least the third-best reliever on the team. Judging by his Pawtucket outings, he still has his nasty curveball.
Trust Hector Velazquez
While Thornburg will be back soon, the Sox need an option in the meantime. Their farm system is fairly barren, and Boston probably doesn’t have the resources required to acquire a top reliever from another squad. Looking at what they already have, the best option would be to use Hector Velazquez in more late-inning situations.
A starting pitcher by nature, Velazquez has been great while serving as a spot starter and the multi-inning guy in the bullpen. Thus far, Velazquez has pitched 22.2 innings, allowing a 2.38 ERA and a .267/.320/.411 slash line. While those are good numbers on their own, they’re even better when only counting his relief appearances. In 12 innings of relief, Velazquez owns a 2.25 ERA with a .271/.340/.375 slash line.
Despite the success, manager Alex Cora has been hesitant to use Velazquez in big moments. It’s an understandable choice, as relief pitchers operate different than starters, and Velazquez doesn’t have much experience coming out of the bullpen. However, it’s time to pull the trigger. Velazquez has been nothing but reliable every time he’s taken the mound, and the Sox need reliability. The former Mexican leaguer has earned his chance to shine in the bullpen, and it’s about time he received more big-time moments.
Disregard Heath Hembree, Acquire Bobby Poyner
Anyone who listens to the Red Sox Unfiltered podcast knows that Heath Hembree isn’t well loved on this site. While Hembree has never been anything special, he’s been particularly brutal of late. In each of his last three appearances, Hembree entered a relatively uncompetitive game to face the bottom of the order. And in each appearance, Hembree quickly made it competitive.
Hembree loaded the bases while recording one or less out in three straight starts, and forced Kelly or Kimbrel to try to clean up his mess. Quite frankly, he doesn’t belong on a major league roster, and the Sox should move in a different direction.
The Red Sox currently have a much better bullpen option in lefty Bobby Poyner. Poyner originally started the season on the major league roster and put up great numbers while on the squad. He only pitched five innings, but he owned an ERA of 1.80 before hurting his hamstring midway through an April 10th matchup with the Yankees.
Once Poyner returned to health, the young lefty was sent to Pawtucket simply because he still had options left. While that decision makes sense to preserve bullpen depth, Poyner’s services are too valuable to leave in AAA. Hembree isn’t better than any random player lying around on the street, and Poyner can immediately help the Sox bullpen. He shouldn’t be the setup man by any means, but he’s more than capable of pitching the sixth inning or facing the bottom of the order. Right now, Hembree can’t do that, and it’s cost the Red Sox multiple games.
The Unfiltered Fix
Right now, the Boston Red Sox bullpen is something of a mess. However, there are internal fixes to improve the squad. Tyler Thornburg’s return should give the Sox great options for the final three innings, and Velazquez and Poyner can improve the unit with increased roles. Will this be the best unit in baseball? Probably not. However, the unit can certainly be good enough to bring this team a championship.