BOSTON -- Barely a month ago, we were supposed to seriously entertain the question of whether the Red Sox should trade Andrew Benintendi to the Mets for closer Edwin Diaz.
Those of us with some common sense noted that potential All-Star outfielders, even ones in the middle of relatively down seasons such as Benintendi, should never, under any circumstances, be traded for a reliever. After failing to acquire a single bullpen arm at the trade deadline, Red Sox boss Dave Dombrowski insisted that the relief corps was better than we thought.
Six weeks later, with Diaz blowing saves left and right -- his latest a tying two-run homer to Philly's J.T. Realmuto on Friday in a game the Mets won anyway -- it's worth noting that the Red Sox bullpen has actually turned out to be pretty good, with a number of young arms emerging as viable options for Alex Cora's 2020 pen.
(Before we go any further, this does *not* change the fact that shoddy relief put the Red Sox in an early hole from which they never really extricated themselves. The time to address their relief shortcomings was June; had the relievers pitched like this all season, we wouldn't be looking at a missed playoff berth.)
Those arms were on display on Friday, when manager Alex Cora rode seven pitchers who weren't even on the Opening Day roster to a 6-1 victory over the Yankees. It just further cemented the team's commitment to bullpenning to the finish line, and it turns out there may be a silver lining to rostering 21 arms, because the Red Sox have unearthed some potential contributors.
First and foremost, there's left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez. A starter throughout the minors, the 22-year-old shifted to the bullpen this summer and has made a legitimate impact.
A National League scout who has evaluated him at three different levels this season was concise in his assessment.
"Wow," he said. "Wow. His stuff really plays in the bullpen. He doesn't have to worry about setting guys up for the second or third time through the order. He's just attacking."
While command can be an issue -- and certainly was as a starter in the minors -- Hernandez's stuff is absurd. He tossed a scoreless inning on Friday night Yankees and entered the day with 62 swings and misses within the strike zone, which suggests dominance.
He pairs a 97-99 mph fastball with a sharp slider and has struck out 55 in only 29.2 innings, or nearly 17 per nine. He has mostly shelved the curveball and changeup he needed as a starter, living primarily on his dominating fastball, which has overwhelmed left-handed hitters, in particular.
"I like this guy," Cora said recently. "I like what he's doing right now. Obviously we'll talk about it in the offseason but right now, he's one of the high-leverage relievers on our team. He's a guy who can get lefties and righties out. He has a good mix and he's actually enjoying it. He likes it. He's up to the challenge. He's durable too. Obviously, you have to be careful because there's more than this year. This guys is a big part of what we're trying to do as an organization and be consistent every year and compete for a World Series and he's part of that."
He's not alone. Left-hander Josh Taylor, acquired from the Diamondbacks as a player to be named later last season for light-hitting shortstop Deven Marrero, has taken his opportunity and run with it. He doesn't throw quite as hard as Hernandez, but he's consistently 94-96 mph and with a scoreless inning on Friday, he dropped his ERA below 3.00 to 2.93.
Not bad for an undrafted free agent already in his third organization at age 26.
Add Marcus Walden, another success story despite being a 30-year-old rookie who kicked around the minors for 12 years, and the bullpen looks like it has some workable pieces for 2020. The aforementioned trio has earned Cora's trust alongside veterans Matt Barnes and Brandon Workman, which means a case can be made that the Red Sox really only need to add one high-leverage pitcher this winter, be it a closer or setup man.
Edwin Diaz? Who needs him. Since his name entered trade rumors in late July, the former Mariners All-Star has posted an ERA slightly over 9.00 and blown three saves, including New York's most crushing loss of the year when he served up the walk-off, three-run homer to Washington this week.
It doesn't take Andrew Benintendi to patch a bullpen, just some patience.
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