The Boston Red Sox had plenty to look forward to from their bullpen this offseason.
They acquired right-hander Tyler Thornburg in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers, were expecting Carson Smith’s return from Tommy John surgery and, of course, still had closer Craig Kimbrel. But with Thornburg now on the 10-day disabled list with a right shoulder impingement and Smith not expected back until late May or early June, there are some big shoes left to fill in the ‘pen.
And that was wildly apparent in Friday’s 6-5 loss to the Detroit Tigers.
The Red Sox trailed early after starter Steven Wright gave up a run in the first inning, but he mostly settled down until the seventh. The knuckleballer still was able to go 6 2/3 innings, though, and 24-year-old reliever Ben Taylor came in to strike out Ian Kinsler and finish the frame in his major league debut.
But the eighth inning was a disaster for Boston.
Heath Hembree came on the mound after the Red Sox regained the lead and immediately struck out Nick Castellanos and Miguel Cabrera. Then, he walked Victor Martinez, which was defensible. But once Hembree walked Justin Upton to put two men on, all hell broke loose.
Left-hander Robby Scott came in and gave up an RBI double to pinch-hitter Mikie Mahtook. Joe Kelly replaced him and walked his first two batters to bring in the go-ahead run. He got a forceout to end the inning, but the damage already was done.
You can harp on the fact that Red Sox manager John Farrell didn’t put in Kimbrel for four outs, but you also can’t blame him 100 percent for not wanting to wear out his best reliever when you consider the current state of the bullpen, nor would you expect any bullpen to dish out four two-out walks. The Red Sox also lost lefty Robbie Ross Jr. to the 10-day DL (flu) and Matt Barnes to the bereavement list.
Friday might not be a reflection of the rest of the season. If the Red Sox are able to get a lot of innings from their starters, they theoretically can be just fine with a small workload for a smaller group of relievers. But the loss does show just how much Boston is missing Thornburg and Smith, and it could be trouble if they don’t return soon.
Here are some more notes from Friday’s loss.
— For what it’s worth, Farrell was confident in his decision not to use Kimbrel on Friday.
Still, it’s a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. Farrell’s taking the blame for not using his closer for four outs, while Tigers manager Brad Ausmus did use his closer, Francisco Rodriguez, for four outs, and he gave up the go-ahead home run to Sandoval. Had Boston’s bullpen not imploded, it would have been a whole different story.
— There is a bright side, as the Red Sox still were able to put up five runs without Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez and Xander Bogaerts. Pablo Sandoval even got in on the action with a three-run homer.
— There was good news down on the farm, too, as Rafael Devers hit a home run in his first at-bat with the Double-A Portland SeaDogs on Friday.
— Red Sox legend Bobby Doerr turned 99 on Friday and is the oldest living Hall of Famer. Boston left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez also celebrated his birthday Friday, but he’s just slightly younger at 24.
Thumbnail photo via Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports Images