BOSTON — Not everything is clicking within the Red Sox’s bullpen. Yet, Boston boasts the third-best bullpen ERA in the American League and has plenty to be optimistic about in regards to the unit.
One of the most important relief issues facing the Red Sox is Edward Mujica’s early season woes. But while Mujica’s rut is somewhat troubling, the Sox can take solace in the fact that Andrew Miller and Burke Badenhop have stepped up to help mitigate any potential problems.
Badenhop tossed 1 2/3 scoreless innings in the Red Sox’s 4-3, 12-inning victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday at Fenway Park. It took Badenhop just one pitch to wiggle the Red Sox out of a first-and-second jam in the sixth inning, as the right-hander induced a ground ball to second base that Dustin Pedroia turned into an inning-ending double play.
“He has saved us a number of times, with extended outings and then to come in a key spot (Tuesday),” Red Sox manager John Farrell said of Badenhop before Wednesday’s game against the Reds. “Last night’s not your traditional move — having him come in to face a lefty — but it ends up working out. He’s the one guy in the bullpen — and it’s the reason he’s here — (who) complements everyone else, and (he has) the ability to get a ground-ball double play. He’s been extremely efficient to give us that work.”
Tuesday’s double play marked Badenhop’s fifth of the season, good for tops in the American League. The 31-year-old has stranded 10 of his 13 inherited runners, and his 11 1/3-inning scoreless streak has lowered his ERA to 3.20 after a few rocky appearances to begin the season put his ERA at 9.00 on April 12.
“We’re seeing more consistent velocity because of the (increased) work (of late),” Farrell said. “He’s now pitching 90-91 (mph), whereas in spring training it was 86-88. We’re seeing later action in the strike zone, as opposed to a long sinking action. It’s movement that’s closer to the plate.”
Badenhop has been especially valuable because of his ability to go multiple innings. He has thrown two-plus innings in five of his 14 appearances and enters Wednesday’s action ranked second among all AL relievers in innings pitched (19 2/3).
Miller, who typically is more of a one-inning guy, provided two impressive innings Tuesday in which he struck out four. The left-hander again looked overpowering, and Farrell indicated Wednesday that he wouldn’t hesitate to use Miller as an eighth-inning setup man or as a closer on days when Koji Uehara is unavailable.
“He’s simplified his delivery, he’s pitching with confidence, he can miss bats and he can get away with pitches in the middle of the plate because he’s a mid- to upper-90s type of guy,” Farrell said. “He’s got a lot going for him.”
Badenhop and Miller aren’t going to carry the Red Sox’s bullpen. But they’re proving to be valuable pieces at a time when Junichi Tazawa has stumbled through a few shaky appearances, and Mujica has dealt with an oblique issue on top of his early season inconsistency.
“We’ve got to get him not only work, but we’ve got to get him to where he’s becoming consistent in terms of the pitch execution,” Farrell said Wednesday of Mujica. “I think we’re learning about him, and we’ve gone back and looked at a large number of video clips, particularly when he was in St. Louis. We’re looking to address a couple of things inside his performance, and hopefully that lends to the consistency that we’re striving for.”
The Red Sox’s bullpen could become even more consistent in time. But for now, the unit is holding up. And Badenhop and Miller deserve some recognition for their contributions.