Nick Friar

DiSarcina takes over Lovullo's role as Red Sox bench coach

DiSarcina takes over Lovullo's role as Red Sox bench coach

With the departure of Torey Lovullo to his own managerial gig with the Arizona Diamondbacks, so went the cloud hanging over John Farrell’s head manifested by fans and media. Or said cloud at least shrunk a bit.

Still, that also left a hole by Farrell’s side as his right hand man and bridge between him and the Red Sox players.

Enter Gary DiSarcina.

The Malden, Mass., native raised in Billerica, Mass., was the Lowell Spinners manager from 2007-2009 and with Pawtucket in 2013 -- the same year he was name the Minor League Manager of the Year by Baseball America. He then left Boston to rejoin the team he played for, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, to serve as Mike Scioscia’s third base coach.

In DiSarcina’s previous run with Boston, he was able to work with some of the players part of the Red Sox “youth movement” and witnessed their growth from the days he was their skipper.

“I can pinpoint Xander [Bogaerts] for example, [The Angels] played [the Red Sox] in 2014 and he had a rough -- I thought -- some rough actions out there, rough year out there,” DiSarcina said. “You could tell he was working on things and just wasn’t quite comfortable at shortstop. The next two years he’s just really taking off. He’s making plays now.”

DiSarcina mentioned how he spoke to 18-year MLB shortstop Alfredo Griffin -- now the first base coach for the Angels -- and he expressed how Bogaerts is making the “subtle plays”.

“Tough little hops you can take for granted,” DiSarcina said. “But you know as a former infielder that they were difficult hops and plays.”

DiSarcina spent parts of 12 seasons in the bigs, all with the Angels, so he hasn’t experienced being in the first base dugout at Fenway. However, he was a big Boston fan in his youth and even recalls heckling Roger Clemens -- when he was on the Red Sox.

“I understand that it’s a daily passion,” DiSarcina said. “From the writers, the papers, he talk shows and I think you have to embrace it. When players embrace it -- I think of Mike Napoli and Kevin Millar, those guys embraced the town, embraced the people -- [they] didn’t take it personally.

“You can’t take it personally. I think that helps me a little bit, as well as being in the major leagues a player and a coach for 15 years.”

And in case you’re wondering, though the two crossed paths in their playing careers, DiSarcina never told Clemens about the day he heckled him at Fenway Park.

Probably for the best.

Red Sox bullpen gassed-up for 2017

Red Sox bullpen gassed-up for 2017

Much like when comparing 2017’s projected starting rotation back to the troublesome 2015 staff, the 2017 Red Sox bullpen has a very different feel from pretty much every pen since Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard left town.

Not that it should simply be reliable because 2013’s combination of Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow was lock-down.

If you happen to sit in the bleachers at Fenway Park, you’ll get the gist of it when you hear the bullpen catcher’s mitt popping in the sixth or seventh inning.

What are we getting at?

This bullpen is loaded with pitchers who live in the mid-90s and above.

Just take a look at their average 2016 fastballs according to Brooks Baseball:

Craig Kimbrel, 98.

Tyler Thornburg, 95.

Matt Barnes, 98.

Joe Kelly, 97.

Robbie Ross Jr., 94.

“We got some arms, that’s for sure,” Kimbrel said of his fellow relievers. “We’re also gonna have a group of guys who works with the same stuff, so we’ll be able to help each other pick things out. That’s kind of part of the bullpen -- it doesn’t matter if one guys or two guys are good, we’re a core down there. And we can get into rhythms.”

“Think as long as we work together down there and help each other out, I think we’re going to have a pretty good team. We’ve got guys who through 95-plus, it’s gonna be from the sixth inning to the last inning. It’s looking pretty good.”

That list of relievers doesn't factor in Heath Hembree (95 average fastball), with Fernando Abad and Carson Smith being the only two who don’t sit 94-plus with their fastballs.

Only so many arms can make the major league team, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for this bullpen given the ups and downs it experienced last year.

After assessing the list, there are a few roles that should be a lock based on their past:

Kimbrel will close, obviously.

Barnes can now serve solely as the reliever that enters with runners on base, seldom a clean inning.

Ross can do that, as well, but also as the go-to lefty in the pen.

And the new guy, Thornburg, acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers for Travis Shaw, is ready to take the setup role that Uehara and Tazawa struggled to hold down in 2016.

“We really like Tyler, he had a really good season last year [2.15 ERA, 13 saves, 220 K's in 219.2 innings, 12.1 K's per 9],” Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said of his new reliever. “He really came into his own last year. We look at him being our setup guy out there.”

And the ex-Brewers closer is embracing a role he’s familiar with.

“I loved that role when I was in Milwaukee and to do it at Fenway will be pretty cool,” Thornburg said. “Especially for a team with such high aspirations.”

Dombrowski also mentioned he expects Hembree, Kelly and Barnes to step up in 2017.

“We’re in a spot where there are some changes, but I think the guys will do a good job for us,” Dombrowski said.

The bullpen was the Detroit Tigers’ bugaboo when Dombrowski ran the show -- Sox fans were especially thankful for that in the 2013 ALCS  -- but it seems now Dombrowski’s loaded up to the point that even if a Kimbrel or Barnes falters, he has someone ready to take their place.

Tyler Thornburg, the other pitcher the Red Sox acquired


Tyler Thornburg, the other pitcher the Red Sox acquired

It wasn’t even a day before the Tyler Thornburg acquisition was old news.

“I was talking to our media people about how long [the conference call] would be. You know, it should be like 20-25 minutes,” Thornburg said. “Then it might’ve been seven or eighth minutes and it was like, ‘No more questions.’ So I was like, ‘Thanks guys, whatever.’ And then [I] ended up getting on Twitter right after seeing that we acquired Chris Sale, and I was like ‘That would be why, might be more important.’”

Boston’s new reliever didn’t really stand a chance.

But he doesn’t expect the same fortune when he toes the rubber for the Red Sox this year as the eighth inning set-up man.

The right-hander broke out in 2016, posting a team-best 2.15 ERA and 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Those numbers are products of his mid-90s fastball and sharp curveball, which both generate swing-and-misses.

“He’s a strikeout machine,” Craig Kimbrel said on his new teammate. “The way the game’s going the strike-zone is getting smaller, so we’re going to strikeout out more guys and that’s part of the game.”

Now, that’s all good and well, but there’s one other question that still needs answering.

Can he do it at Fenway Park as a member of the Red Sox?

“I don’t really feel like it’s going to be one of those things that I think about too much,” Thornburg said. “I feel like any time you put a little more pressure on yourself, it tends to affect you.

“But it’s really not that big of a difference for me, I’ve thrown in Fenway. I threw on Opening Day in 2014 and pitched well, so hopefully that’s a sign of things to come.”

Much like Sale, Thornburg doesn’t seem too concerned about it. In fact after hearing both answer the same question, it’s arguable that Thornburg thought about the issue less than Sale.

But maybe that’s just because Sale gets asked more questions, given his first conference call went a little bit longer than seven or eight minutes.