Bobby Poyner

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.

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Surprise! Poyner and Walden make Red Sox pitching staff

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AP Photos

Surprise! Poyner and Walden make Red Sox pitching staff

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Pitchers Marcus Walden and Bobby Poyner are your surprise 2018 Red Sox, clearing up the Red Sox’ 25-man roster picture ahead of Opening Day.

Brandon Workman was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket, leaving the righty Walden as a long man. Poyner is the lone lefty in the bullpen. (Justin Haley was also re-assigned to minor league camp on Monday).

The Red Sox rotation has also been named, in order of games they are scheduled to pitch: Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Hector Velazquez and Brian Johnson.

“As long as they’re healthy Thursday, but they won it. They pitched well,” manager Alex Cora said Monday afternoon. “They did an outstanding job throughout spring training. When I talked about it yesterday, when you talk about spring training stats and you get caught up: it’s not about the numbers. You see the stuff and how they went about the hitters, the weapons, the pitches they can use and we feel they’re going to help us out right now. 

“I know [Workman] has been here for a while and he’ll be part of this. It takes more than 25 guys to win a World Series. It takes more than 40. You have guys, you never expect them in the offseason that they were going to be part of this. . . . Obviously, [Workman's] disappointed. He’ll be all right. He’ll go to Pawtucket, he’ll compete, and at some point we’re going to need him and he’s going to get outs at the big league level.”

Walden, 29, had a 3.92 ERA in 29 games at Triple-A Pawtucket last season, 15 of them starts. Poyner, 25, had a 1.49 ERA across High-A and Double-A last year. He’s skipping Triple-A.

A few other roster notes:

•  Steven Wright went to the 10-day disabled list on Monday, and he also got a PRP injection in his surgically repaired left knee. Wright cannot serve his 15-game suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy unless he is healthy and able to be on the active roster. So, whenever his time on the DL is up, he still has the suspension looming. He’s out of the picture until late April at the earliest.

• Eduardo Rodriguez and Drew Pomeranz were officially listed on the DL, as expected. E-Rod is to buy the whole team dinner on Tuesday, Cora emphasized, because coach Carlos Febles gave him No. 57, which is what E-Rod wanted. He wanted No. 57 because it belonged to Johan Santana.

• Dustin Pedroia will be traveling with the Red Sox as opposed to remaining in Florida to rehab his right knee. Cora thinks it will be "special" to have Pedroia on hand as Cora’s managerial career begins. “It’ll be special for me, I think it’s special for him too,” Cora said. “He hates the fact that he’s not going to be in the lineup. I know it’s special, it means a lot to both of us. And the rehab is very important to be around us . . . So he’ll travel with us. He’ll get close, then he’ll disappear and go somewhere, either here or wherever he has to go to get his at-bats and we’ll go from there.” Pedroia is to be in Boston as well.

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Red Sox moves leave Poyner as likely lefty in pen

Red Sox moves leave Poyner as likely lefty in pen

The Red Sox optioned three players, including lefties Robby Scott and Roenis Elias to Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday, leaving rookie Bobby Poyner as the leading candidate to make the team as a lefty reliever.

Infielder Tzu-Wei Lin was also sent to Pawtucket and catcher Dan Butler, infielder Iván De Jesús Jr., and outfielders Rusney Castillo and Aneury Tavárez were re-assigned to minor league camp.

Poyner, 25, dominated at Double-A Portland last season. The 14th-round pick from the University of Florida in 2015 held opponents to a .142 batting average with a .094 ERA in 27 appearances for the Sea Dogs. Poyner has an 0.96 ERA with eight strikeouts in 9 1/3 spring training innings. 

Red Sox manager Alex Corea told reporters in Florida on Saturday that left-handers Drew Pomeranz (left forearm) and Eduardo Rodriguez (offseason knee surgery) will begin the season on the disabled list, leaving Hector Velazquez, Justin Haley or Marcus Walden to make the team as the fifth starter. 

A few decisions remain with the opener approaching Thursday at Tampa Bay, including whether Blake Swihart, Brock Holt or Deven Marrero will make team as bench players. 

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