Joe Kelly

Dombrowski says 'other priorities' took precedent over Red Sox bullpen

Dombrowski says 'other priorities' took precedent over Red Sox bullpen

Anyone who has watched Joe Kelly past few outings - including the walk-single-two hit batters quagmire Thursday night that helped the Blue Jays tie it in the eighth inning - knows the bullpen is a concern for the Red Sox.

The Sox have tried to solve their eighth-inning gap internally, with knuckleballer Steven Wright the latest to audition - shakily - for the spot. 

While president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski made trades to bring in a starter (Nathan Eovaldi), right-handed bat (Steve Pearce) and second baseman (Ian Kinsler), the Red Sox weren't among the teams that acquired any of the bevy of relievers who moved at the trade deadline.

Dombrowski told Jon Heyman of MLB Network and FanCred.com that addressing the pen would've left the Sox lacking in their other needs.

“If we addressed the bullpen, then there’d be other needs we’d have,” Dombrowski told Heyman in a phone interview. “It wasn’t that we weren’t open to some moves. But we addressed some of our other priorities.”

The Astros landed closer Roberto Osuna from the Blue Jays, who Dombrowski said, “We couldn’t touch” because of the domestic violence charges pending against him.

Meanwhile, if you think the Sox pen has been shaky, some post-All-Star break stats, per the Boston Globe's Alex Speier, back that assertion up.

Of the American League playoff teams, the Red Sox have the second-highest bullpen ERA since the break (3.83). The Yankees have the highest at 4.35.

The Sox have blown an A.L.-high 10 saves (Kelly's effort Thursday being the latest) since the break. They've converted 50 percent of their save opportunities since the break, the lowest rate in the A.L. 

The offense has bailed them out for the most part. Boston is 11-6 when its blown a save this season.

Buckle up while watching those relievers in the playoffs.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Red Sox lose reliever Matt Barnes indefinitely with hip injury

Red Sox lose reliever Matt Barnes indefinitely with hip injury

Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes will be out indefinitely as he rests an inflamed left hip.

"We don't want it to hurt anymore," Barnes told reporters before the Red Sox played the Astros on Saturday at Fenway Park. "I don't think that's fair to the team to go out there and to be pitching at anything less myself or the team thinks I'm capable of."

Barnes (5-3, 3.39, 1.200 WHIP) pitched Monday in Atlanta but said the injury has been bothering him for about a week and a half. He had two scoreless outings before being shut down, but in two previous outings, he allowed six runs in 1 1/3 innings. He had a 9.64 ERA in 9 1/3 innings in August.

"When we feel the symptoms aren't there, then we'll see what's next," manager Alex Cora said before the game. An MRI Thursday revealed the inflammation. 

Cora said Joe Kelly, Ryan Brasier - who were hit hard in the seventh and eighth innings in a 6-3 loss to Houston on Friday - and Heath Hembree would handle the late innings ahead of closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth, with matchups determining a lot of their usage. 

"They do feel that with rest, he’s going to feel better, and he’s going to be feeling better in the long run," Cora said. "I guess we’ll stay with that as of now and see how he reacts to it and then we’ll see if we have to do something else."

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Drellich: Plenty of intrigue in assembling Red Sox postseason pitching staff

Drellich: Plenty of intrigue in assembling Red Sox postseason pitching staff

BOSTON — Eleven may be the focal point of the rest of the 2018 Red Sox regular-season. In this case, that’s only an indirect reference to the number of playoff victories needed to win the World Series for the presumptive American League East champs.

Eleven is also the number of pitchers the 2016 and 2017 Red Sox carried on their Division Series roster. It is also the number of pitchers Alex Cora’s 2017 Astros took into the Division Series — before switching to 12 for the ALCS and then the Fall Classic. It’s a solid bet, then, the Sox will look to 11 again for the first round in 2018.

Even if they go with a different number, the pitching staff is still the area of intrigue. 

The Yankees, despite their unsightly deficit of 10 1/2 games entering Friday, could still make the division interesting by mid-September. Merely interesting, as in, briefly worth paying attention to. The Sox and Yanks have six head-to-head games left in the final four series of the season, so the Yanks would need to whittle down the Sox lead a few games from here to simply add a bit of intrigue. Not to precipitate a collapse or actually overtake the Sox — to just add a bit of drama. 

But, for the sake of probability and planning, let’s assume the Sox hold on to this thing with ease and that prepping for the postseason is now their primary focus. 

Maintaining health and setting up the rotation are relatively straightforward tasks. The road to 11 will take some tough decisions, however.

Assuming Eduardo Rodriguez returns healthy and that the pitchers who are currently healthy remain so, these eight pitchers should be locks: 

1. Chris Sale
2. David Price
3. Rick Porcello
4. Eduardo Rodriguez
5. Nate Eovaldi
6. Craig Kimbrel
7. Matt Barnes
8. Tyler Thornburg

From there is where it gets complicated, and is where Cora and Dave Dombrowski and all the other Sox decision-makers have a lot of thinking to do.

For the remaining three roster spots in the Division Series, there’s a presumed pool of six to nine pitchers to choose from, depending on how generous you're feeling. (The Sox could always make a waiver trade and add an arm this month.) 

You can make decent cases for any of:

1. Joe Kelly
2. Heath Hembree
3. Ryan Brasier
4. Brandon Workman
5. Hector Velazquez
6. Brian Johnson 

Velazquez and Johnson have been instrumental to the 2018 Sox, although their stuff doesn’t wow you. 

The other three? Well, lefty Bobby Poyner was around early in the season but has spent most of the year at Triple-A, seemingly falling out of favor. There’s Steven Wright with the volatility and upside of his knuckleball, but also the unpredictability of his repaired left knee. Wright is a darkhorse. Drew Pomeranz is a lefty but his performance likely takes him out of the equation. 

Which of Eovaldi or Rodriguez winds up in the bullpen for the Division Series could have a trickle-down effect. If it is Eovaldi, who does not do as well against lefty hitters (.733 OPS this season, .781 OPS lifetime) perhaps the Sox would want a lefty arm in the 'pen, such as Johnson.

Then again, even if Rodriguez is in the 'pen, the vision likely would not be to use him as a lefty specialist, but rather as a high-leverage, multi-inning reliever. One of Thornburg’s strengths in his career is he’s a righty who can neutralize lefties. 

The Sox have been adamant all year that typical handedness considerations — throw a southpaw against a lefty hitter — do not matter. Nonetheless, it’s hard to believe the Sox won’t give any weight to a variety of looks.

How the Sox actually make these decisions is a whole matter unto itself. Do they give more credence to what they observe in the next month as they make choices, or a player's history? Cora talked earlier this season about throwing Kelly's history out the window as Kelly found great results for a time, yet, how much Kelly has really changed this season is debatable.

Brasier, the out-of-nowhere feel-good story, is to get more high-leverage looks in the immediate future. Barnes and Thornburg sat in Philadelphia as the Sox rested them. 

Dry runs for the postseason bullpen, and the different variants it could have are what to watch from here until October.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE