BOSTON -- The loss of reliever Carson Smith for the rest of this season -- and the start of next year, too -- is potentially a significant blow for the Red Sox bullpen.
But both vice-president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and manager John Farrell expressed confidence that the Sox can survive -- and even thrive -- without the hard-throwing right-handed reliever, who underwent Tommy John surgery Tuesday and will be sidelined until at least the middle of next season.
"Unfortunately, we really haven't had Carson much this year,'' noted Dombrowski, referring to the total of 2 2/3 innings Smith has pitched, "so our bullpen now has the ninth, eighth and seventh innings set with Craig [Kimbrel], Koji [Uehara] and [Junichi Tazawa]. [Matt] Barnes and Heath [Hembree] have both had opportunities to step up and pitched well for us. We'll continue to see if they do that.''
"I really like our bullpen,'' echoed Farrell. "We've had depth emerge with Hembree and Barnes, and we're able to distribute the workload evenly to protect Taz and Koji.''
But the Sox' high-leverage set-up crew features a 41-year-old (Uehara) and Tazawa, who has faltered badly in the August in each of the last two seasons because of overwork.
"I guess it's something we'll continue to watch,'' said Dombrowski. "There's still quite a bit of time before the [Aug. 1] trade deadline. So you continue to watch that. I feel comfortable with the way it is now, but we'll have to wait and see. We didn't anticipate this and that's really why we got Carson -- to give us more depth in case something did happen. But we'll continue to see what takes place.''
Dombrowski said it was too soon to begin exploring outside trade possibilities, given that talk doesn't intensify until after the draft in June.
"If something [else] were to happen,'' Dombrowski said, "I guess we'd be more aggressive. But right now, the way Barnes and Hembree (are pitching), along with [Robbie] Ross Jr. and [Tommy] Layne . . . we feel pretty good about our bullpen -- right now.''
"I really like our bullpen,'' noted Farrell. "We've had depth emerge with Hembree and Barnes and we're able to distribute the workload evenly to protect Taz and Koji.''
One possibile option could be taking a look at Joe Kelly in the bullpen. Kelly was sensational Saturday, allowing one hit in 6 2/3 innings in his first start back from a shoulder impingement. But it's long been thought that his stuff would translate well to the bullpen, and the Sox will have six starting pitchers when Eduardo Rodriguez returns.
"It's a great question, but it's not one I'll approach at this time,'' said Dombrowski. "We haven't specifically talked about putting Joe Kelly in the bullpen. But we're also aware that we're not going to use six starters.''
Smith is expected to miss the next 11-14 months, the typical recovery time from Tommy John surgery.
He was first injured on March 21, when he left the mound in Jupiter, Fla. during a Grapefruit League game. The diagnosis was a strained flexor muscle in the forearm, and he returned to action earlier this month. But he continued to experience discomfort, and a followup MRI Friday revealed a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL).
Dombrowski said "there was nothing at the time in March (that suggested a torn UCL). Flexor muscles, sometimes that leads to (torn UCL's). But not always. It's an alert that goes up in your mind when dealing with elbow. But you can't spend time obsessing about it, because then you wouldn't sleep on any night.''
Dombrowski said there were no red flags at the time of last December's trade with Seattle that Smith may be pre-disposed to this kind of injury with his cross-fire, three-quarters delivery.
"I think when you look at his delivery,'' acknowledged Dombrowski, "you'd say it's an unusual delivery. It's probably more apt to have injury. We had the medical information and we thought he'd be fine.''