ST. LOUIS — A thorny situation is going to leave a lot riding on Carson Smith.
Three significant pieces for the Red Sox presently on the disabled list seem like they’ll be able to contribute some time soon: Smith, Pablo Sandoval and David Price.
What exactly they'll bring is hard to predict, but at least they're on the way.
Tyler Thornburg, on the other hand, is stalled as he and the Red Sox search for answers about his sore shoulder. His situation leaves less security for a bullpen that has been good thus far, but is not loaded with proven commodities.
With so much uncertainty around Thornburg, Smith's progress becomes even more important.
“Hard to say,” Sox manager John Farrell said when asked how Thornburg fits into the team’s plans. “It’s not hard to say that at this point we think Carson is ahead of him by the sheer fact that he’s on the mound and he’s throwing bullpens, but I don’t think any of us have conceded the fact that Tyler won’t be back to us at some point this year.”
Not the most encouraging statement about Thornburg now, is it?
Sandoval on Wednesday left St. Louis for a rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket, which is to begin Friday. That’s the same day Price is slated to make his first minor league appearance. If Price's day goes well, it could be his only minor league appearance before activation.
Returning from Tommy John surgery, Smith doesn’t seem far off from going out on his own rehab stint. He's with the team in St. Louis.
“He’s getting closer,” Farrell said. “He’s still in a two-time-per-week bullpen session (phase where) he’s now starting to throw some breaking balls in. So we would hope that when we get off this road trip, we’re starting to see him against some hitters. That would be a couple of times before we get him out in game action. It’s been encouraging, since he came from Florida back up to us here, it’s been encouraging the progress he’s made.”
The shoulder impingement Thornburg is listed with on the disabled list is not telling the whole story. He was scheduled for tests and doctor visits this week and is not with the team.
The longer it takes for Thornburg to get back in a throwing routine, the longer they’ll be without him. Ultimately, then, the Sox can't count on seeing one of their big winter pick-ups anytime soon — and in turn, they'll be counting on Smith even more.
“One of the better late-inning relievers in the game,” Farrell said of Smith. “And he was able to establish himself in a really short order of time at the Major League level. It’s a unique arm slot. It’s an uncomfortable feel for the hitter. He’s been dominant against right-handed hitters in his short Major League career.
“When we acquired him, it was the vision or intent to build him late in the game. We’ve got some work, obviously, to get him back to that point but he can be a huge lift to this bullpen once he gets back to normal strength.”
The bullpen has been remarkably good. Their 2.90 ERA entering Wednesday was the fourth best in the majors, behind only the Indians (1.93), Yankees (2.39) and White Sox (2.47). Craig Kimbrel’s dominance is no small part. But the group is an unknown quantity, to an extent.
Joe Kelly’s velocity and performance have both been highly encouraging. Robby Scott has become Farrell’s most trusted lefty. Heath Hembree and Matt Barnes have had some good moments but their ERAs sat in the 4’s entering Wednesday night.
The return of both Smith and Thornburg would be huge. For now, Smith is the only one who seems to be on the radar.
Holt back at it
Brock Holt’s vertigo symptoms subsided to the point he was back in the lineup for Pawtucket on Wednesday.