Joel Hanrahan’s Leash Appears to Be Getting Shorter, As John Farrell Makes Bold Move in Ninth Inning of Red Sox’ Win

Boston Red Sox pitcher Joel Hanrahan walks back to the dugout after being relieved by manager John Farrell in the fourth inning of a Grapefruit League game against the Minnesota Twins at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla. on Thursday, March 7, 2013. Hanrahan gave up four runs on four hits in one-third of an inning.Joel Hanrahan is still the closer, but for how long?

Red Sox manager John Farrell showed on Saturday that he’s not afraid to make a big-time decision when it comes to the late innings, and that means Hanrahan is very much on the hot seat going forward.

Farrell turned to Hanrahan in the ninth inning of a tie game on Saturday, but it wasn’t long before the skipper had seen enough. Just two games after Hanrahan surrendered five earned runs in the ninth inning of a blown save against the Orioles, the right-hander walked the first two Rays hitters he faced, which prompted Farrell to make the boldest -– and wisest -– move he’s made as manager of the Red Sox.

Farrell yanked the struggling Hanrahan in favor of Koji Uehara, who has been impressive early on this season. Uehara responded by retiring the next three hitters to send the game into extra innings, where the Red Sox eventually walked away with a 2-1 victory.

Farrell wasn’t ready to make any changes regarding his relievers after Saturday’s game, but with Hanrahan providing three subpar outings in a row, it might not be long before the skipper considers some permanent adjustments. The most likely scenario would be Andrew Bailey — who pitched a 1, 2, 3 eighth inning on Saturday and who has been solid -– becoming the team’s closer while Hanrahan shifts to a setup role.

For now, it looks like the Red Sox will continue to use Hanrahan in the ninth inning of ballgames, although Saturday shows that it’s no guarantee he will finish the inning. Farrell understands he has alternatives when Hanrahan isn’t on his game, so there’s no need to mess around in the face of ineffectiveness.

“No move’s going to be made. That’s a situation that the closer comes in, tie game at home, but after the two leadoff walks, [I] felt like we had someone behind him ready to go in Koji [Uehara],” Farrell said. “Right now, Joel’s going through a little bit of a spell where things aren’t clicking for him, but we’re still with him. We’ve got a guy today [who] picked him up in Koji, and [he] did one heck of a job to shut off that threat in the ninth.”

Hanrahan’s struggles present two pressing questions. There, of course, is the issue of how long the Red Sox should stick with Hanrahan if he continues to struggle, but there’s also a question as to what’s wrong with the two-time All-Star. Farrell doesn’t think it’s anything mechanical, but he described the reliever as “pitching a little bit careful” on Saturday.

That carefulness could be due to the struggles he endured over his previous two outings, or it could be the result of pitching for a new team in the American League. Whatever the case, it’s something that will need to be solved, because Hanrahan’s presence in the bullpen is important, regardless of which role he assumes.

Hanrahan’s next few outings will dictate a lot. The Red Sox’ hope, obviously, is that he’ll figure things out, but until then, Farrell will just have to keep making decisions on a game-by-game basis.

“Today it was clear that he was looking to command the ball down and away to the right-handers. With [Evan] Longoria, he missed a couple of times, obviously, for the walk,” Farrell said. “Then on the 3-2 pitch, I thought he regrouped a little bit after the first ball to go 1-0 to [Ben] Zobrist, but [he] got back in the count, looked like he was on his way in that situation. But after the 3-2 base on balls, I felt like it was time to make a move right there. Again, he’s pitching in some tight spots. And I know that’s the life of a closer, but at that point, it was time to make a move.”

Hanrahan is still living the life of a closer for the time being, but the leash is certainly that much shorter after Saturday’s events.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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