Marcus Walden

Turns out Red Sox didn't need Edwin Diaz after all, because bullpen suddenly boasts legit weapons

Turns out Red Sox didn't need Edwin Diaz after all, because bullpen suddenly boasts legit weapons

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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MLB trade deadline is here and Red Sox kindly reminded Dave Dombrowski of their many flaws

MLB trade deadline is here and Red Sox kindly reminded Dave Dombrowski of their many flaws

BOSTON -- And on the final night before the 4 p.m. trade deadline on Wednesday, the Red Sox reminded us of all the reasons they're currently out of the playoff picture.

You want a summary of the season to date -- and not just the last uplifting week, but the bad that came first -- this was it.

Starter David Price, long hailed as the ace, continued a stealth march to mediocrity that's now six weeks old. Remember those early days of April when no Red Sox starter could last five innings? Price harkened back to them with 4.1 innings of four-run ball, blowing a 3-1 lead in the process.

"It's been a grind over my past five or six starts," said Price, who has posted a 5.48 ERA in his last nine starts. "Outs are tough to get. It's been tough just throwing strikes."

The short outing meant extra innings for the bullpen, a punchline and punching bag practically since Day 1 for its inability to protect leads or keep games in the proper zip code. The trio of Marcus Walden, Josh Taylor, and Colten Brewer combined to blow a 5-4 lead in the sixth. In a perfect world, none of them would be on the roster. In this imperfect one, each has spent a portion of the season looking like he might be Alex Cora's choice for the seventh inning.

Still, this wasn't just about the pitching. The offense may be the best in baseball on paper, but it often disappears in tense situations. The Red Sox went 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position and left 11 on base, including seven in the final three innings. They moved the tying run to third with two outs in the seventh and ninth, but those innings ended with an Andrew Benintendi strikeout and Christian Vazquez fly ball to left.

"We didn't put them away," Cora acknowledged.

The defense did its part, too. For all his improvements at third base, Rafael Devers made his league-leading 17th error when he dropped a relay in the fourth. Instead of a potential double play and easy inning, Price ended up loading the bases and throwing 28 pitches. He escaped without allowing a run, but the Rays led off the fifth with two homers, a single, and a double to chase him.

The 6-5 loss dropped the Red Sox a game-and-a-half behind the Rays in the wild-card race and took some sheen off the 5-2 start to the season's pivotal 14-game stretch vs. Tampa and New York.

President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski watched the game from his suite alongside advisors Frank Wren and Tony La Russa. The trade deadline is Wednesday at 4, and if the Red Sox want the final two months of the season to unfold a little more positively than the first four, they'll need to make at least one deal, if not two.

The priority remains relief. Cora did not mince words over the performance of his middle men on Tuesday. Brewer served up the big blow on a two-out, two-run double to Avisail Garcia.

"That can't happen," Cora said. "For us to take it to the next level, we've got to put guys away and that was a big shutdown inning for us. He put a good swing on it, we do what we do, and with two outs, it's tough. We've got to go back tomorrow and try to do it again."

They seem out on Mets closer Edwin Diaz, who blew his fifth save after allowing a hit and two walks in the ninth against the White Sox on Tuesday. They're more likely to target a pair of middle relievers, although one possibility -- Cincinnati's Amir Garrett -- is looking at a suspension after charging the Pirates dugout and throwing haymakers on Tuesday.

Whatever happens, the Red Sox will not reach the playoffs if they continue on their current course. Price, for one, is fascinated to see what upgrades they make.

"Excited," he said. "We aren't where we want to be in the standings but all in all, for the way we started, the way we played at home, we haven't put our best foot forward yet. That's a good sign considering where we are in the standings. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens tomorrow. I think everyone else is too."

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Alex Cora doesn't buy that pitching in ninth is harder than seventh or eighth, even as Red Sox relievers struggle

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AP Images

Alex Cora doesn't buy that pitching in ninth is harder than seventh or eighth, even as Red Sox relievers struggle

BOSTON -- It sure looks like the Red Sox have a ninth-inning problem, but Alex Cora doesn't see it that way.

One day after his bullpen coughed up yet another ninth-inning lead in a 4-3 loss to the Rangers, Cora expressed confidence in his core relievers and disputed the notion that pitching in the ninth is any different than the seventh or eighth.

He also admitted he can't explain why the team ERA is so much worse in the ninth (6.00) than the seventh (4.03) and eighth (3.49).

"It's one of those that a lot of people have their thoughts about the ninth inning, that those three outs are bigger than the first 24," Cora said. "There's others that feel there's people that are ready for that one. They can do it there. I don't know. I really don't. I just feel that we're trying to maximize our talent. Maximize our strength and match it up with them."

Does Cora believe the idea that the ninth is harder has merit?

"I don't," he said. "I really don't. I just think if you execute pitches you get people out. Yesterday, we didn't and we paid the price."

On Monday, Matt Barnes allowed two runs while trying to protect a 2-1 lead against Texas. The Red Sox forced extra innings before losing in 11 innings. Do the Red Sox need to acquire another arm?

"We're always looking for ways to improve," Cora said. "That's what the organization has done. I do feel that we've got to put ourselves in a situation that, yeah, if we do this we're going to be elite again. So, I think thinking ahead, yeah, it's great, it's always great because that's what we do. But we need to get this right first and go from there."

Cora expressed confidence in what has emerged as his core group: Brandon Workman, Barnes, Marcus Walden, and right-hander Heath Hembree. He hopes the impending return of left-hander Brian Johnson provides depth.

"I think we're still getting people out," Cora said. "That has been going on. You compare us to other bullpens, yeah the saves are not there, but we're still doing a good job. We're still matching up and finding matchups that are going to benefit us.​"

Now if they could just figure out the ninth inning . . .

 
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