With Erik Bedard expected to only throw 75-80 pitches in his Red Sox debut, manager Terry Francona may be forced to go to his bullpen earlier than he'd usually hope for. But if the past couple of nights — and season as a whole – is any indication, it shouldn't be too much of an issue.
After the Sox bullpen suffered a rare implosion on Monday night in the first game of their four-game series with the Indians, it's posted back-to-back scoreless outings, spearheaded by a tandem of left-handers in Franklin Morales and Randy Williams.
Morales flew through two innings on Tuesday night, needing only 22 pitches to record six outs, which included three K's, and keep the Indians offense at bay. He then handed the ball over to Papelbon for the first of his back-to-back wins.
"Any time somebody stays out for the second inning, there's a pretty good chance they're throwing the ball really well," Francona said of Morales' performance on Tuesday. "First of all, pitch count didn't get him out of the game, and he didn't give up runs, so we want to send him back out."
On Wednesday night, it was Williams who bridged the gap from starter Tim Wakefield to Papelbon with 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. While Williams enters Thursday with a 7.04 ERA in 7 2/3 innings this season, his last two appearances have been encouraging, with the lefty showing an ability to get left-handers out.
Fracona wouldn't say how this year's pen stacks up with those of years past, but he also wasn't shy about stressing the importance of receiving quality innings from his relievers.
"We're just trying to win games. We've had some good bullpens here, and when we haven't, it's when we've lost," he said.
It's obvious that when guys like Morales and Williams provide big innings, the team receives a boost, as it has the past two nights, when Jacoby Ellsbury has provided ninth-inning heroics. But at the end of the day, it still helps to know that Daniel Bard and Papelbon are waiting to take the ball at the back end.
"Any time you have an end in sight, you're going to lose the occasional game, but you don't need three miles down there and guys throwing and not know who's throwing," Francona said of the Red Sox' duo. "Games you lose like that hurt, but you wake up the next day and go back and there's a semblance of order. Just get to those guys, and that's really helpful."
The problem is often finding the right combination to get to that back end. Morales and Williams aren't the flashiest of names and have been inconsistent at times. But without their contributions, the Fenway Faithful may not have been treated to perhaps the most exciting pair of back-to-back games the park has seen in some time.
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