BOSTON — Junichi Tazawa hasn’t even had a save opportunity since being named the Red Sox’ temporary closer. Yet he’s already facing questions about his ability to handle the ninth-inning role.
Tazawa, who was named Boston’s closer in the absence of Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan, entered Saturday’s game in the ninth inning with the score tied 2-2. He quickly got ahead of the first batter he faced, Adam Lind, but one big mistake cost the Red Sox the ballgame. Tazawa hung a 2-2 slider that Lind blasted over the center-field wall.
“There’s a pitch he didn’t execute and he paid for it. That’s a Major League Baseball game,” catcher David Ross said after Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays. “You’ve got to execute pitches and it’s one of those things that happens here and there. Taz has been doing a great job for us. He’s a really good pitcher. He’s one of our best. That’s why they chose to put him in the closer’s role while guys are out and it’s just one of those things.”
Tazawa hasn’t been asked to close out the ninth inning with a lead yet, but he has surrendered runs in back-to-back outings since being named Boston’s closer. Tazawa doesn’t think it has anything to do with a change in his role, although he admits there is some added stress that comes with being named the team’s closer — even if it is just a temporary move until Bailey returns.
“I think there is some additional pressure to perform well, but I’m just trying to concentrate on each pitch,” Tazawa said through an interpreter after Saturday’s game. “I think I’ll be able to perform fine.”
Tazawa has had a very solid season, and he was one of Boston’s few bright spots during a disappointing 2012. It’s reasonable to expect he’ll bounce back from Saturday’s loss, especially since no major changes seem necessary.
“He’s been as powerful. He’s had good secondary stuff with the exception of the 2-2 breaking ball that doesn’t get to the spot,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said when asked if he’s seen anything different out of Tazawa. “You can refer back to the 2-1 fastball that he threw to try and go down and away to [Edwin] Encarnacion for a home run up in Toronto, but it’s not a matter of stuff. Still, location is going to be the key in any situation.”
Farrell, of course, is referring to the location of Tazawa’s pitches, but the reliever’s location on the team’s bullpen depth chart will be a hot topic for as long as he’s the closer. That’s understandable, but we shouldn’t rush to any conclusions based on his last two outings. Tazawa is best-served pitching in a setup role, but he’s also the club’s best closer option at this moment. The Red Sox’ reluctance to pitch Koji Uehara on back-to-back days essentially takes him out of the running, and Tazawa has been arguably Boston’s best reliever.
If Bailey has a setback and Tazawa is asked to be the Red Sox’ long-term closer solution, then they might have a problem. Until then, it’s simply a matter of Boston weathering the storm, which just wasn’t in the cards on Saturday.