BOSTON — The Red Sox left-handed pitching situation is one of the most unclear heading into the playoffs, with seemingly only one bullpen spot on a potential playoff roster locked up: David Price’s.
Now, it might be wise for the Red Sox to rethink their stance on Price and give him a shot at starting — but, for now, he’s viewed as a reliever.
That gives way to a slew of other questions. If, say, Eduardo Rodriguez does not make a postseason rotation, would the Sox see value in him out of the bullpen? His reverse splits this season — an .850 OPS against lefty hitters compared to .709 vs. right — might discourage the Sox, if they’re looking for match-up help.
But E-Rod looks more likely to start with Price relegated to relief and Doug Fister struggling.
So, who else behind Price, who won’t be considered a specialist? Based on his usage for most of the year, you’d think Robby Scott would be a lock. You’d think.
Sox manager John Farrell didn’t make it sound a certainty Monday
“That’s his role, that’s his forte,” Farrell said of Scott vs. lefties. “That’s where we’ll take every opportunity to hopefully take advantage of the side arm and the angle that he pitches with. That’s all going to be within the context of how our roster builds out going forward and more importantly, how we can get him to the mound in the final two weeks.”
Enter Fernando Abad, who has been used (or not used) as though he were an outcast much of the year.
You have to wonder if Farrell will at least give him a thought as a hot hand down the stretch. He probably should, because Abad's had better command, allowed fewer home runs and has considerably more experience. But Abad’s been used in the lowest leverage situations of all Red Sox relievers with at least 20 innings, even lower than Blaine Boyer, per FanGraphs.
In the last 14 days, Abad has been used in higher leverage moments than previously, but still not to the extent of Scott.
Both Abad and Scott have both been excellent against lefties overall. Scott’s faced 70 lefties and held them to a .133 average, while Abad has faced 65 and held them a .190 average. The peripherals are slightly tilted Abad’s way: Scott’s walked eight, Abad’s walked five. Scott’s struck out 17, Abad’s fanned 20.
But of late, Scott hasn’t been quite the same. He has a 6.47 ERA since the start of August, although he’s allowed opponents an average of just .167 in that time, a seven-inning span. He’s given up three home runs in the stretch as well.
Abad, meanwhile, has a 1.86 ERA in the same period, with 9 2/3 innings pitched.
Abad’s had to be patient all year. He had nine days down, sitting from Aug. 14-24. But he’s made good of his opportunities.
“It's part of the game,” Abad said. “So, I’m here, to do whatever they want to me to do. … I got my routine, you know every single day, with [bullpen catcher Mani Martinez]. And I got like two, three days of pitching and throwing a little flat ground to get my arm in shape.”
The biggest difference for Abad this year compared to last has been his command. His walk rate with the Sox last year was 4.2 per nine between Boston and Minnesota, down to 2.6 in 2017.
“I think I last year I [was thinking] too much,” Abad said. “I was thinking too much in the game, you can’t concentrate a lot. So this year I feel like more fresh. To come in the game, I say, oh, I have to throw a first-pitch strike. No matter what pitch it is, breaking ball, changeup, whatever, it has to be a strike.”
Abad, 31, is a free agent to be, and someone’s going to pay him decently to handle southpaws next season. Abad said he’d like to re-sign with the Red Sox next season.
“I want to come back here,” he said. “I’m focused now to come here every day to come here prepare get ready. To go to the playoffs and then World Series.”