CLEVELAND -- The move of Nathan Eovaldi to the bullpen has lessened the immediate need for a closer, but a lot can change between now and July 31, and if the Red Sox decide to dive into the deep end of the bullpen market, three prime options participated in Tuesday's All-Star Game.
Detroit's Shane Greene, San Francisco's Will Smith, and San Diego's Kirby Yates would represent significant upgrades for a Red Sox bullpen that has struggled to finish off games all season. The Red Sox have allowed 43 runs in the ninth, fifth-most in baseball, trailing only non-contenders like the Orioles, Mets, and Marlins, and their 18 blown saves lead the American League.
All three are having outstanding seasons. The right-handed Greene is 0-2 with a 1.09 ERA and 22 saves. The 30-year-old is making $4 million and has one more year of team control. The left-handed Smith, who turned 30 on Wednesday, is 1-0 with a 1.98 ERA and 23 saves. He will be a free agent in October. Yates has been the best of the bunch, with 30 saves and a 1.15 ERA while averaging nearly 14 strikeouts per nine innings. He's making $3.06 million and won't be a free agent for another year.
All three pitchers are aware they've been linked to the Red Sox.
"I have Twitter, so I see the same articles everyone else sees," Greene said. "I can't control that. Right now I'm wearing a Tigers uniform, and until I'm not, that's what I'll do."
Said Smith: "The whole trade thing, I've been through it already enough, it doesn't really affect me. If it happens, it happens. I love to do what I do. Going to the ballpark every day is fun for me. You play to be the best. I just try not to wrap myself up in that, because there's absolutely nothing I can do about it."
And Yates: "I'm a Padre. I love where I'm at. I don't have any control. I'll deal with that if it happens."
The three were more interesting on a different subject: the toughest innings to pitch as a reliever. And their answers shed some light, potentially, on why the committee approach of the Red Sox hasn't worked.
"People think I'm crazy for saying this, but I think the toughest job in the bullpen is throwing the seventh and eighth inning," Yates said. "Going out there and getting three outs in the ninth, I get it that the last three outs of the game can be hard. I'm not saying it's easy, but the seventh and eighth inning, you usually get the middle of the lineup, and if you're an eighth inning guy, chances are you're warming up in the seventh inning if guys get on base. You get hot more often, and your situation is not consistent.
"I know if I have a lead in the ninth inning, I'm going in the ballgame. It's not really like that in the seventh or the eighth. You pitch in tie games, sometimes you pitch down one, so sometimes those roles are really hard."
The Red Sox, of course, have effectively turned every inning after the sixth into just such a challenge, adding at least 33 percent more uncertainty to the equation on a nightly basis.
"I'd agree with Kirby on that," Smith said. "The seventh or eighth, you might need to only get one out, but there could be runners on second and third, a lot more crazy things can happen. The ninth inning you know the three guys you're facing more often than not. You know when you're throwing. You get to warm up however you want, clean inning, nobody on. It's not that it's easier, but it's more calming for me: 'All right, we've got a three-run lead, I have to get three outs without giving up more than two runs.' The keep it simple, stupid, approach."
Red Sox relievers haven't been afforded that luxury, and the result has been a physically and mentally taxing season.
Greene's former teammates in Detroit include David Price and J.D. Martinez. Greene noted that he has discussed with friends on the Red Sox what it would be like to pitch in Boston.
"I'm sure we've talked about it or whatever, but I'm a baseball player, I don't make those decisions," he said.
That said, Greene wouldn't mind some Fenway Park redemption, since he made his big league debut there in 2014 with the Yankees and "it didn't go very well."
Greene walked three batters and allowed three runs while retiring one batter in New York's 14-5 victory that April.
"What I remember the most is sitting in the dugout trying to figure out what had just happened," he said. "But the feeling I had when I ran out of the gate for the first time is something I'll never forget."
He'd love the chance to pitch in the postseason, which he has yet to do. While he reiterated his commitment to the Tigers, he also acknowledged the allure of the postseason.
"It would mean the world," he said. "Who doesn't want to be the last guy standing? If I get an opportunity to do that, it'd be a dream come true."
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