BOSTON -- The bullpen has been one of the biggest question marks for the Red Sox all season, but it seems to finally be taking shape.
Craig Kimbrel remains cemented as closer, and with the return of Koji Uehara, John Farrell has been able to establish a few roles.
“With Koji’s return, and on days which he’s available, that gives a lot more latitude with Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes and even Brad [Ziegler],” Farrell said before Saturday’s game.
Although the pectoral injury seemed to be season-ending at one point, Farrell now expects to use Uehara on back-to-back days soon.
“I think the number of pitches the night before might be indicative whether he’d be available [on back-to-back] days,” Farrell said. “Koji’s responding great physically with the day off or two days off in between. I don’t want to over-push that -- at least at this point -- but I think he’s getting closer to where we would go back-to-back with him.
“He’s been such a quality addition as he’s come back off the disabled list. It’s allowed some of the things in the bullpen to filter towards earlier innings if needed. But in time, there may be a back-to-back opportunity.”
Since his September call-up, Kelly hasn’t given up a run in his six appearances, striking out 11. Both Barnes and Ziegler haven’t given up an earned run this month either.
Barnes has been the greatest beneficiary of Uehara returning to form. With Uehara and Junichi Tazawa battling injuries and general struggles on the mound, Barnes was trust into a high-leverage role -- for almost every situation.
“When Taz went through his situation where he needed some time -- which now Taz in the last three, four, five outings, has been on the upswing again -- before Joe got here, Barnes was the guy we leaned on quite a bit,” Farrell said.
Now Boston can use Barnes in a role his most comfortable with -- entering an inning with runners on base.
“I’m almost to the point where I almost feel more comfortable coming in with guys on than a clean inning -- which is kind of weird because it was completely reverse last year,” Barnes told CSNNE early July. “It’s something you kind of pride yourself on -- helping somebody out and then kind of saving their runs and keeping the guys from scoring.”
Farrell also expects to continue using Robbie Ross Jr. in a similar role to Barnes.
And now, the bullpen that seemed like a skeleton crew less than a month ago is becoming a part of the solution.
Nick Friar can be followed on Twitter: @ngfriar