Red Sox

Forget about Chris Sale, Red Sox bullpen is becoming the real problem

Forget about Chris Sale, Red Sox bullpen is becoming the real problem

BOSTON - If every Red Sox deficiency this season were to spring from the Green Monster like leaks in a dike, the team would run out of fingers before it jabbed the hole marked "bullpen."

Chris Sale is only throwing 88! Nathan Eovaldi needs surgery! Mookie Betts is hitting .200! Jackie Bradley's not hitting at all! Ramon Laureano keeps throwing everyone out! Rick Porcello can't throw a strike! Etc. …

With such high-profile targets to bemoan, we understandably lost track of the setup corps, which also escaped notice by virtue of the Red Sox trailing for most of their first 10 games. Relievers can't protect leads that never existed.

The last week has retrained our focus, though, and not in a good way.

It started in Yankee Stadium on Wednesday with two of the supposed reliables -- setup man Brandon Workman and co-closer Ryan Brasier -- combining to spit up Brett Gardner's go-ahead grand slam. It continued at Tropicana Field with another stalwart, veteran right-hander Matt Barnes, surrendering a pair of eighth-inning home runs in games the Red Sox eventually won.

And it revealed itself in particularly ugly fashion in the first game of a doubleheader Tuesday vs. the Tigers, when the trio of Heath Hembree, Colten Brewer, and Bobby Poyner allowed seven hits and five runs in just 2.2 innings, turning a 3-3 game into a 7-4 loss.

It continued a miserable pattern. The quartet of Brasier, Barnes, Workman, and Marcus Walden is 6-1 with a 2.38 ERA in 41.2 innings. The rest of the bullpen has been a mess, however, going 1-2 with a 7.47 ERA in 47 innings, which includes a mop-up frame from infielder Eduardo Nunez, but ignores a pair of three-inning spot starts from Hector Velazquez.

"We need to get better," acknowledged manager Alex Cora. "We recognize a few guys that they're going to pitch in high-leverage situations. Today's different with the doubleheader. We've got some guys throwing the ball well, there are others that need to make adjustments and get better."

The bulk of that failure belongs to Hembree, Brewer, and Tyler Thornburg, at least two of whom were expected to pitch meaningful innings this season, and a third -- Brewer -- considered one of the most intriguing players in camp.

Brewer's problem is strikes. He has walked seven, including a leadoff free pass to Niko Goodrum that kick-started a three-run seventh. He then served up the kill shot, a two-run double halfway up the Monster by Josh Harrison with the Red Sox optimistically playing the infield in. His command Is MIA.

"Very frustrating," Brewer said. "We've got one job to do and that's to get outs with the game on the line, and that's something obviously I have to get better at.

"It is early in the year, but [command] could definitely be better than it has been, and that's something I'm going to work on, for sure."

For Hembree, the issue is secondary offerings. The home run he allowed to Ronny Rodriguez came on a curveball, continuing a trend that has seen a pitcher nicknamed "Heater" get beaten by his second and third pitches despite owning a 95 mph fastball.

"We've been talking about that, and that's been going on, I think, since the last part of the season last year," Cora said. "His fastball plays at this level. We believe that, and if you look at the numbers and all that, his fastball where it has to go, he gets swings and misses and weak contact.

"He hung a breaking ball to Rodriguez right there. The slider hasn't been as consistent as it was last year or the early part of the season, but we're still working. Velocity is OK compared to last year – 94, 95 – but we need him to go with that fastball to some of the spots and obviously with breaking balls, we need to make sure we expand the plate."

Cora praised Thornburg on Tuesday morning for pitching better than his numbers, and he responded with the only effective relief outing of the afternoon, striking out two over 1.1 perfect innings.

The Red Sox will need more of that as they attempt to overcome a mediocre 9-14 start that leaves them only 2.5 games ahead of the Marlins for the worst record in baseball.

That's a far cry from where we expected them to be nearly a month into the defense of their World Series title, but then again, the bullpen is just one of many leaks in need of plugging.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Xander Bogaerts offers thoughts on Mookie Betts returning to Red Sox in 2021

Xander Bogaerts offers thoughts on Mookie Betts returning to Red Sox in 2021

The Boston Red Sox made a decision that made a lot of fans unhappy in early February. The team decided to trade Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers along with David Price in exchange for a package of three prospects.

Betts, the MLB's MVP back in 2018, is one of the top five players in the league. He hit .295 with 29 homers last year as the Red Sox lead-off hitter, so parting with him obviously stings.

But could the Red Sox try to bring him back in free agency next offseason? It's possible, and it's something that Xander Bogaerts thinks the team could attempt to do.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

“Hey, you know... probably, maybe in a year,” Bogaerts said of potentially getting Betts back in 2021, per Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com. “We’ll see how that goes. He knows what he means to us and we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

Of course, there's no guarantee that Betts will end up returning to Boston. He could opt to sign an extension with the Dodgers or he could simply sign with the team that offers him the most money. And given how far apart he and the Red Sox were in negotiations, Betts may simply be out of their preferred price range.

It's tough to prognosticate what will happen in a year. And Betts wasn't willing to give any context clues during his introductory press conference with the Dodgers.

But Bogaerts and the Sox will remain hopeful. And until then, Boston's shortstop had one message for his former teammate.

“Obviously, I wish him nothing but the best," Bogaerts said, per Cotillo. "One of the best teammates I’ve had. One of the best young players we had to wear the Red Sox uniform.

"He’s someone we’re going to miss a lot. It’s not easy to replace somebody like that on and off the field.”

Rob Manfred provides updated timeline for Red Sox sign-stealing investigation

Rob Manfred provides updated timeline for Red Sox sign-stealing investigation

With spring training now here for MLB clubs, the Boston Red Sox have one massive question hanging over their heads. What will be the result of the MLB's investigation into the team's alleged sign-stealing?

Well, on Sunday afternoon, the Sox got an update on when that may be coming thanks to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.

Manfred has stated that the investigation will likely be wrapped up within the next two weeks, according to Evan Drellich of The Athletic.

It will be interesting to see who the MLB is re-interviewing and what impact that will have on the investigation. But the fact that some developments have "slowed down" the MLB doesn't seem to be good news for the Red Sox.

The sooner the Sox know the results of the investigation, the sooner they can move on from it. And that will be important with the regular season drawing nearer and nearer.