While the Red Sox' 5-3 win over the Orioles Tuesday night was about Mookie Betts and his continued emergence as Boston’s best bat, it easily could have been about the bullpen’s continued struggles.
Matt Barnes did his best to maintain Eduardo Rodriguez’s no-hitter, throwing two dominating innings after a hamstring pull forced E-Rod out of the game in the top of the fifth. But Barnes had buzzard luck in the seventh.
Then came the real bullpen problems.
Labeling Fernando Abad a disappointment isn’t fair at this point -- he’s way past that.
At first, his pitching elicited a slew of puns . . .
I'm guessing a lot of people think that was Abad move by the #RedSox sorry couldn't help it.— Nick Friar (@Nick_Friar) August 3, 2016
Abad ending to a game the #RedSox had complete control of...— Nick Friar (@Nick_Friar) August 3, 2016
But after last night . . .
Can't even make puns about Abad anymore. It's gotten that brutal.— Nick Friar (@Nick_Friar) August 17, 2016
Abad has an 11.25 ERA and given up seven hits and three walks in four innings of work. He's looking for all the world like another pitcher who thrived in a small market but can’t hack it in Boston.
Then it was Brad Ziegler’s turn. Tuesday wasn't one of his better nights -- he came on with a one-run lead and two runners aboard, and allowed the Orioles to tie the game by allowing a hit and a walk with two outs -- but he still struck out Jonathan Schoop with the bases loaded to keep the game tied. He’s averaging an appearance almost every other day, and John Farrell has to be careful he doesn’t overuse the valuable submariner.
After Robbie Ross Jr. did what was asked of him in the eighth -- striking out the only batter he faced, Chris Davis -- Craig Kimbrel nailed it down with a 1-2-3 ninth after the wild ride in Cleveland.
Kimbrel has pitched three times in the last four days and is probably not available tonight -- rather, hopefully not available tonight -- because the Red Sox don’t need another injured or fatigued reliever on their hands.
Missing from Tuesday night's parade of hurlers was Junichi Tazawa. It's understandable because, regardless of everything positive Farrell has said about him, he's clearly not at his best.
He has zero confidence in his fastball -- which hasn’t touched the mid-90s since the beginning of the year -- and he’s leaning too heavily on his curveball. According to Fangraphs, Tazawa has thrown his slider 11.8 percent of the time and his curve 14.0 percent of the time in 2016. Last year those numbers were 8.3 and 9.3, respectively.
And it doesn’t look like Koji Uehara (strained pectoral muscle) will return soon, either. Which is just as well, because Farrell was using him based on what he was in 2013 rather than what he is in 2016.
So what does Farrell have? Two dependable veterans (Kimbrel and Ziegler) who are in danger of being overworked. A youngster (Barnes) who is emerging as a reliable arm, and a mid-career left-hander (Ross) who appears to be able to handle the limited role being asked of him. A recently promoted minor-leaguer (Heath Hembree) who, after early promise, was pounded hard the last time he was here, earning a demotion to Pawtucket. And two others (Abad and Tazawa) who, for different reasons, can't be counted on.
Dave Dombrowski has to do something unless he wants to turn these Red Sox into the Detroit Tigers teams he was in charge of -- contenders who couldn't get over the hump because of relief woes.
It makes a Jonathan Papelbon experiment all the more sensible.