Before we go any further, understand that the Red Sox are going to continue to rely on the three-headed bullpen monster that is Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara and Craig Kimbrel. That's not up for debate, no matter how shaky theyve been in the early going.
But without Carson Smith to serve as the fourth option, the bullpen’s been at a loss when the trio isn’t available.
William Cuevas almost had a good first outing, but the rails fell off. Roenis Elias was not impressive. Robbie Ross, Jr. has had good moments, but is far from trustworthy. Noe Ramirez has been a major disappointment. And while Tommy Layne and Matt Barnes have been good at times, they’ve also made enough mistakes that they’re not go-to guys yet -- but can be in time.
Then there’s Sunday night’s hero, Heath Hembree.
The hard-throwing right-hander hadn’t been an impact pitcher for San Francisco in his short time with the Giants. Up until last Tuesday, he hadn’t been one for Boston either.
Last year he mainly pitched in garbage time after giving up six runs in his first outing. He wound up averaging a home run allowed every five innings, and only struck out 15 over 25 1/3 innings. Low strikeout totals are always mystifying for hard-throwing relievers, but it’s usually because their fastball is straight and they rely on it too heavily.
This year, Hembree’s thrown 7 2/3 innings and struck out 11 batters -- the second-highest total among Red Sox relievers. So he’s four strikeouts away from tying his previous season’s total -- in 17 2/3 less innings -- and we’re still in April.
Yeah, Hembree is definitely figuring himself out.
“I’m just trying to go out there and make pitches and go as long as I can,” Sunday’s winner said to Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald.
He’ll still have down moments along the way, but immense adversity comes with the territory.
The best part about Sunday’s performance was his ability to bear down after Travis Shaw committed his third error of the season in the 12th inning. Hembree persevered, unlike Kimbrel in the ninth.
“He continues to come along so strong for us,” John Farrell told Mastrodonato after Sunday’s win. “And through all the shuttle we’ve gone through, if there’s a silver lining in this it’s been the arrival of Heath Hembree, the further development of him, the ability to make big pitches in pressure situations.”
If he continues to display solid composure with result, then the Sox have a fifth weapon when Smith returns -- and they didn’t have to break the bank to get him.