Red Sox Bullpen Ready to Rise Now That Starters Are Finding Rhythm


May 26, 2010

Red Sox Bullpen Ready to Rise Now That Starters Are Finding Rhythm Red Sox relievers have gone relatively under the radar thus far, thanks to the club's wild opening months, when the offense unexpectedly carried the brunt of the load and the star-studded rotation struggled to stay afloat.

Now that the team appears to be running on all cylinders, the bullpen is sticking out as the team's Achilles' heel with a 4.36 ERA, which ranks third-to-last in the AL. But these numbers don't paint the whole picture.

Will the bullpen ever be something
Terry Francona can count on?
Debbie, Vermont
I think it will, and I realize I risk being criticized as wearing rose-colored glasses. However, I think the bullpen was highly taxed because of the unforeseen shakiness of the starters in the month of April and beginning of May. The starters were not going deep into games and we were seeing way too much of the pen early in games, having to fill the time the starters could not cover. As a result, I really feel like those guys were taxed. If you look at the stats in the first week of May, you find that the Red Sox relievers were near the top in appearances. So now the starters are pitching as expected and the pen is rested and now performing as expected. I think this will be evident as we move forward.
After seeing how comfortable Daisuke Matsuzaka was with Jason Varitek, do you expect him to become his regular catcher?
–Tim, Melrose, Mass.

I do. Terry Francona has been very reluctant toward having one catcher work with one specific pitcher. I think he always felt hamstrung having Doug Mirabelli and others become personal catchers. Obviously, that was an extreme situation because of Tim Wakefield, but come playoff time, you want your best lineup on the field, and if a pitcher feels comfortable with someone who is less likely to help you offensively, you're stuck.

That said, in order to get to the playoffs, you need Matsuzaka to continue his dominance, and that may require Varitek to catch him regularly. It appeared that Varitek was already becoming Josh Beckett’s personal catcher. What helps now is how well Varitek has been performing at the plate.
Is Mike Lowell healthy? He seems to be struggling at the plate.
–Lenny, Burlington, Mass.
I think he is actually feeling better than he has in a really long time. I just think the lack of playing time and plate appearances have finally caught up to him and his timing has now escaped him. You can take all the batting practice in the world and not be able to replicate live pitching. We see it every year early in spring training how long it takes players to achieve their timing — pitching is always ahead. If you have hit just once or twice in a week's span, it’s like starting over again each time you're up, and Lowell may be stuck in that unfortunate situation now. I think early in the year he was able to pull it off, but he has had a harder time of it lately.
 Why is Kevin Youkilis only playing at first base this year, and not spending any time at third?

–Sara, Concord, Mass.
I think he would slide over if the team needed him to, but this year, the team hasn't needed his services at the hot corner. I know last year he had expressed that he would rather stay at one spot all year and work on becoming the best at that spot. He learned first base in one season and turned himself into a Gold Glover there. I also think you need to give him major kudos for simply having the ability to switch on a nightly basis and perform at a very high level. However this year, the need does not exist with the way this roster is constructed. You have Adrian Beltre every day and when you don’t, Mike Lowell is available to play third as well.

Where are your favorite ballparks to announce from in the majors besides Fenway?
–Leo, Montreal
I would have to say Baltimore and Seattle. Both have great sight lines, good booths, and are easy navigate from the booth to the field and and to the clubhouses. They are well-kept and seem to be the best for fans as well. In the NL, my favorite would be Philadelphia. It is small, but again, has many of the same qualities as my AL favorites.
Joe Maddon has been given a lot of credit for the Rays' turnaround. Do you think he is one of the best managers in the majors?
–Tabatha, Hudson, Fla.
I do. I think it was very inspiring the way he turned around everyone in the entire organization and got them to believe they were actually winners and not losers. He was the guy who changed the entire mind-set. They all bought in and got to the World Series. I worked the 2008 ALDS for TBS and got to know him a little bit when his Rays took on the White Sox. He is a manager first and team psychologist second. I have the utmost respect for him and his philosophies. The Rays would not be able to accomplish what they have without him at the helm.

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