Alex Cora

Red Sox bullpen doesn't just need help, it needs a closer to lock down the ninth

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Red Sox bullpen doesn't just need help, it needs a closer to lock down the ninth

It's time to find this Red Sox bullpen a closer.

The starters won't be available to bail anyone out until October, so the Red Sox must consider reinforcements for a relief unit that has carried the load for much of the season, but is already showing signs of wear.

Another viable arm would be nice. Someone who can take the ball in the ninth would be even better.

It's a retrograde solution in light of the plan manager Alex Cora has cultivated since last winter to use his best reliever -- usually Matt Barnes -- when the matchups demand, whether it's the seventh inning, eighth, or ninth. But the team's current personnel simply isn't equipped to sustain this approach.

On Wednesday night in Toronto, the bullpen suffered a slow-motion implosion that cost starter Rick Porcello a victory and increased the pressure on president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski to address what is becoming a glaring need.

Stalwarts Brandon Workman, Barnes, and Marcus Walden combined to allow one run apiece in the seventh, eighth, and ninth, erasing leads of 3-1 and 4-2 and forcing extra innings, where Heath Hembree surrendered yet another tying homer in the 12th before Michael Chavis did his thing and won it with a monster blast in the 13th.

The limitations to Cora's the-ninth-is-just-another-inning approach looked particularly stark when he handed the ball to Walden, a career minor leaguer who has been a revelation, to close out a one-run game. It's one thing for Walden to deliver big outs in fifth or sixth. It's another to do it in the ninth, and he couldn't.

While Cora has pushed the right matchup buttons with Barnes, in particular, it's time to stop pretending this tactic can last an entire season, especially with Ryan Brasier struggling. The Red Sox lack the bodies to mix and match their way through the last three innings, and they should start addressing their problems from back to front, as Wednesday illustrated.

Porcello delivered six outstanding innings, limiting the Jays to one run on just 80 pitches. He left with the Red Sox leading, 3-1.

Then the fun started. Perhaps stung by trying to wring another inning out of Porcello in his last start vs. the Rockies, Cora summoned Workman. Reliable despite lacking the overpowering stuff typical of a late-inning reliever, Workman could not throw his fastball for a strike, and his curveball barely found the top of the zone, either.

He recorded two quick outs and then loaded the bases before walking in a run. He escaped by inducing a grounder to second and muttering to himself in disgust as he left the mound.

On came Barnes for the eighth. The right-hander is asked to fill a role that exists for virtually no other reliever in baseball -- neutralize the heart of the opposing order, wherever, whenever. This time he drew the 2-3-4 hitters, and No. 3 took him deep, Justin Smoak ripping a solo homer that pulled the Jays within a run at 4-3.

On we moved to the ninth, where Walden was asked to record a legitimate save. He wilted, allowing a double, groundout, and game-tying two-run single that forced the squads to play for another hour and a half.

The Red Sox have now blown eight saves, although they technically improved to 19-1 when leading after eight innings.

The issue is how they can make this work all year, especially since so many of their relievers are flawed: Workman struggles to throw strikes and lacks an overpowering fastball to complement his big curveball; Brasier needs a pitch that he can throw soft and away to lefties; Walden can't afford to elevate a slider and is untested; Heath Hembree gives it up when he throws anything other than a fastball. Even Barnes is susceptible to the home run. The rest of the pen could be DFA'd tomorrow with no repercussions.

So, why a closer, or at least someone with closing experience, instead of simply another arm? Because that would allow Cora to mix and match all he wants in the sixth, seventh, and eighth without worrying about the final three outs.

Put another way: he could limit the instances when Workman attempts to close out the Rockies (he succeeded), or Walden tries to secure a one-run win on the road (he did not).

I know what you're thinking: Craig Kimbrel? If the Red Sox had any interest, they'd have signed him months ago. It's hard to imagine changing course now, or that Kimbrel would even be interested, since he's just a couple of weeks away from becoming a true free agent without draft pick compensation attached.

If Kimbrel's not an option, that's OK, because Impact relievers change teams every year. Last season alone, dynamite arms Ryan Pressly (Astros), Brad Hand (Indians), Zack Britton (Yankees) and the controversial Roberto Osuna (also Astros) were dealt.

Start picking through last-place rosters to see who might fit that bill this year, whether it's Royals setup man Jake Diekman, Giants closer Will Smith, or Nationals All-Star Sean Doolittle. All three are lefties, which wouldn't hurt Boston's mostly right-handed staff.

Is this an overreaction to one game? I don't think so. The Red Sox have been dancing on the precipice for a while now, and best to address the issue before they fall.

 

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Alex Cora clears up controversy with Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman

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Alex Cora clears up controversy with Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman

Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman got into a bit of a kerfuffle with the Red Sox during Tuesday night's game, and it continued Wednesday on Stroman's Twitter account.

Some Red Sox players, including Chris Sale and Michael Chavis, took exception to Stroman's antics on the mound which included a quick-pitch during Chavis' at-bat. Alex Cora said after Tuesday's game that Stroman "competes a certain way and people don't like it." Stroman didn't take too kindly to that comment, saying Cora "is probably still made he chose USA Baseball over Puerto Rico" in the World Baseball Classic.

Wednesday on WEEI's "Ordway, Merloni & Fauria," Cora gave his side of the story.

"I wasn’t actually complaining about the quick-pitch," Cora said. "I was actually telling the umpire because Stroman goes to [Michael] Chavis and he talks to him and then somebody from the dugout is screaming at Stroman and Alan Porter right away jumps on our guy. I was actually screaming at the umpire, but if people want to feel like I was screaming at Stroman and that’s a story so be it. I don’t have anything against the kid."

The Red Sox manager went on to clarify what he meant regarding Stroman's competitive style.

“It’s the Stro-show, you know? He’s on the mound and he has his antics and he gets under people’s skin and all of a sudden he pitches six innings," Cora said. "I was with the Astros and people from the dugout were screaming at him and with the Red Sox people in the dugout are screaming at him. It’s part of it. I said he competes a certain way. Some people like it and some people don’t. But, as you guys know in the media there’s always somebody writing the headline and those are the ones that get you in trouble. Thank you again to the guys that wrote the headlines and now there’s something going on here in Toronto.”

As for Stroman's tweet about Cora being salty about his World Baseball Classic team choice, Cora shrugged it off and raved about his experience with the Puerto Rico team he had the privilege of managing.

"He even tweeted that I am still mad he didn’t pitch for Puerto Rico in the WBC," Cora said. "I had the best time of my life with that team and he wasn’t part of it. Highlight of my career. He pitched six innings and he did an outstanding job for Team USA in the finals and I had a blast with the team that I had."

Although Cora does a nice job of cooling things off in this bizarre feud, it'll be worth keeping an eye on Stroman's active Twitter account to see if he has anything more to say about the situation.

The Red Sox will look to respond on the field with victories in the final two games of their four-game set vs. Toronto.

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Marcus Stroman snaps back at Alex Cora, Red Sox over quick pitch spat

Marcus Stroman snaps back at Alex Cora, Red Sox over quick pitch spat

Marcus Stroman isn't letting the Boston Red Sox have the last word.

The Toronto Blue Jays pitcher apparently ruffled Boston's feathers Tuesday night by quick-pitching Michael Chavis after the Red Sox rookie tried to disrupt his timing.

Stroman claimed Chavis and Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale both had words for him about his quick pitch, and Sox manager Alex Cora also took a jab at the Blue Jays pitcher after Boston's 10-3 loss.

"It’s the same thing with him every day. He competes a certain way and people don’t like it," Cora said of Stroman, via Keegan Matheson of Baseball Toronto. "It seems like whenever a team comes in, somebody screams at him. I don’t know, that’s the way he acts."

Stroman caught wind of Cora's comments Wednesday on Twitter and apparently was not pleased.

But Stroman didn't stop there, referencing his decision to play for Team USA in the 2017 World Baseball Classic instead of Cora's Puerto Rico squad. (Stroman has a Puerto Rican mother but was born in the U.S., making him eligible to play for both teams.)

The veteran pitcher (and very active tweeter) then offered a few more words in his defense.

The Red Sox reportedly also were bothered by Stroman's celebration after he worked out of a bases-loaded jam. But the Blue Jays pitcher has a history of playing (and tweeting) with plenty of passion, and he's not about to change it.

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