First pitch: Red Sox bullpen overhauled ... again

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First pitch: Red Sox bullpen overhauled ... again

Overhauling bullpens from one season to the next is commonplace in baseball. By definition, relievers are effective one year and not so the next, creating an annual state of flux. The overachieving middle man one year turns back into a under-performing journeyman the following season.

But this year, the Red Sox are making their adjustments in-season, time and time again, and by the looks of things, are about to begin their third iteration of relievers.

It began in the final week of spring training when the team lost closer Andrew Bailey to a thumb injury, forcing a shuffle that saw Alfredo Aceves made into the team's ad-hoc closer.

And now, two-thirds of the way into the schedule, just as the playoff race is taking shape, the Sox are being forced into doing it again.

In the last few weeks alone, two relief mainstays have been taken out of the equation: Scott Atchison, sidelined last month with forearm soreness, now likely needs season-ending Tommy John surgery; and Matt Albers was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks Tuesday in
exchange for Craig Breslow.

That shuffle has the Red Sox adjusting a critical part of their team with slightly more than one third of the schedule remaining. But the team has options with which to make its adjustments.

Breslow gives the Sox, for the time being at least, a third lefty in the bullpen, joining Andrew Miller and Franklin Morales. As general manager Ben Chernigton noted Tuesday: "We felt like,
earlier in the year when we had three lefties (Morales, Miller and Rich Hill) was when our pen was really rolling the best and it will give Bobby a chance to match-up and use all three guys.
It certainly gives Bobby some flexibility for the rest of the year if he needs to use Morales as a starter. So hopefully, there are a couple of benefits.''

The Sox have three series and nine games remaining with the lefty-leaning New York Yankees and having Breslow to come into the game in the seventh or eighth inning to face Robinson Cano or Raul Ibanez, or to turn switch-hitters Mark Teixeira or Nick Swisher around to the
right side could prove valuable.

And with Breslow and Miller already in the pen, the Sox could spring Franklin Morales into a spot starter's role, giving them the potential to throw a lefty in all three games, joining Jon Lester and Felix Doubront, each of whom beat the Yankees last weekend.

The loss of Albers and Atchison can be covered soon enough. Bailey is another half-dozen rehab appearances from returning to the major league roster.

Assuming the Sox eventually have Bailey reclaim the closer's role, that frees Aceves to shift into the set-up spot, more than making up for the innings that will be lost because of the trade of Albers and the injury to Atchison.

Aceves, remember, thrived in such a role last season and his durability makes him an invaluable weapon. Because Aceves prefers as much work as possible -- Valentine has already used him to finish 19 non-save situations -- he can contribute multiple-inning stints.

Aceves can team with Vicente Padilla to form a formidable righthanded-duo for the seventh and eighth innings, while the three lefties -- a fourth could be on the way as Rich Hill rebounds from his own forearm issues -- give Valentine plenty of late-inning matchup possibilities.

Junichi Tazawa has emerged, too, as an effective middle weapon. Since rejoining the team July 15, Tazawa has allowed just two runs over his last nine innings of work, while averaging a strikeout per inning.

Finally, waiting in the wings is Daniel Bard, who could yet have an impact on the final two months if he can continue to harness his control. In Bard's last five outings, covering five innings, he's walked just two.

Following a rocky first three weeks of the season, the Red Sox bullpen has sported a 2.32 ERA, best in the major leagues.

This time around, Valentine won't have a three-week grace period as he evaluates and assigns roles. But he's much more familiar with his personnel by now, which should speed up the process.

Quotes, notes and stars: Betts has first career five-hit night

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Quotes, notes and stars: Betts has first career five-hit night

BOSTON - Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox' 6-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals

QUOTES:

"We continually do a great job in creating opportunities and I'm confident that (the struggles with men in scoring position) will turn.'' - John Farrell

"When you start off with a five-run spot in the first, that's a tough deficit to overcome.'' - Steven Wright.

"That's how it goes sometimes. Sometimes, we score when we're not expecting to and then when we need to score, sometimes it doesn't happen.'' - Mookie Betts on the team going 4-for-15 with RISP.

 

NOTES:

* The loss was just the third in the last 13 series openers for the Red Sox.

* The game marked the first time in 20 home games in which the Sox never led.

* Boston was 4-for-15 with runners in scoring position.

* The first four hitters in the order were 13-for-19 (.684). The fifth-through-nine hitters, however, were just 2-for-21 (.095).

* Mookie Betts (five hits) leads the majors with 55 multi-hit games.

* Dustin Pedroia has reached base in each of his last eight plate appearances.

* David Ortiz's double was the 625th of his career, passing Hank Aaron to move into 10 place in MLB history.

* Ortiz leads the A.L. in doubles (41) and extra-base hits (72).

 

STARS:

1) Eric Hosmer

Hosmer cranked a three-run homer into the Monster Seats four batters into the game, and the Royals were off and running with a five-run inning.

2) Ian Kennedy

The Royals starter wasn't dominant, allowing nine hits in 5 1/3 innings, but he bailed himself out of a number of jams and limited the Sox to just two runs.

3) Mookie Betts

Betts had his first career five-hit night and knocked in two of the three Red Sox runs, though he also got himself picked off first base.

 

First impressions: Royals' five-run first inning dooms Red Sox in 6-3 loss

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First impressions: Royals' five-run first inning dooms Red Sox in 6-3 loss

First impressions from the Red Sox' 6-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals:

 

Steven Wright recovered nicely after the first inning, but the damage was done.

Wright's last five innings featured just three hits allowed -- one in the infield. But the first inning did the Red Sox in -- two walks followed by a three-run homer, then a single and a two-run homer.

Whether this was a matter of rust for Wright -- who last pitched three weeks ago Friday night -- or an early inability to command his knuckleball is uncertain.

The fact is, Wright dug an early hole for his teammates, and he had the misfortune to do so against a team with the best bullpen in baseball.

To his credit, Wright kept the game somewhat within reach thereafter, but the five-run head start proved too much of a jump.

 

It's time to worry a little about Jackie Bradley.

Bradley was just 7-for-40 in the just-completed road trip, and things didn't get any better on the first night of the homestand.

In the first, he came up with two on and two out and struck out swinging to strand both baserunners. In the third, he came to the plate with runners on the corners and, again, struck out swinging.

We're seeing the same kind of slump that Bradley fell into in previous seasons, where even contact is hard to find, with nine strikeouts in the last 16 at-bats.

Problem is, with Andrew Benitendi on the DL, there aren't a lot of options for John Farrell with the Red Sox outfield.

 

Trying to get Fernando Abad and Junichi Tazawa back on track in low- leverage mop-up didn't work.

Tazawa had a perfect seventh, but gave up a monster shot into the center field bleachers to Lorenzo Cain to start the eighth.

Abad entered, and while he did record a couple of strikeouts, also gave up a single, a walk and threw a wild pitches before he could complete the inning.

Getting some work for the two was the right idea, given that the Sox were down by three runs at the time. A good outing might help either regain some confidence and turn the corner.

But not even that could be accomplished Friday night.