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.

Pomeranz gives up three runs in Red Sox loss to Blue Jays

Pomeranz gives up three runs in Red Sox loss to Blue Jays

Starter Drew Pomeranz gives up three runs on five hits in four innings of work in the Red Sox' 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays on Friday.

Lou Merloni breaks down Pomeranz's start and explains why he should be in the starting rotation to begin the season.

Sox' lack of homegrown starters an understandable problem to Yanks' Cashman

Sox' lack of homegrown starters an understandable problem to Yanks' Cashman

The dearth of homegrown starting pitching for the Red Sox is talked about almost as much as every Tom Brady post on Instagram.

Red Sox fans may take some solace in knowing their team isn’t the only one dealing with this problem.

In an interview with MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman didn’t talk about his team’s pitching problems in context of the Red Sox. But the explanation the longtime Yanks boss offered should sound familiar. 

In the biggest of markets, time to develop properly is scarce.

“Yeah. It's a fact,” Cashman said when asked if criticism of their pitching development was fair. “I think part of the process has been certainly where we draft. Because we've had a lot of success, we've not been allowed to tank and go off the board and therefore get access to some of the high-end stuff that plays out to be impactful. Part of it is we can't get out of our own way because we don't have the patience to let guys finish off their development, because if you possess some unique ability that stands out above everybody else -- whether it was Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, now [Luis] Severino and before that [Bryan] Mitchell and Shane Greene -- we're pulling them up before their development is finished.

“Teams like Tampa Bay, for instance, they're going to wait until they have their four pitches down and their innings limits are all exceeded at the minor-league level; they're very disciplined in that approach as they finish off their starters. For us, if I'm looking at my owner and he says, ‘What's our best team we can take north?’ 

“Well, ‘We could take this guy; he's not necessarily 100 percent finished off, but we can stick him in our 'pen. He can be in the back end of our rotation, because he's better than some of the guys we already have,’ and then you cut corners, so I think that probably plays a role in it.”

Not everything is circumstantial, though -- or a deflection. 

“And sometimes we don't make the right decisions, either, when we're making draft selections and signings and stuff like that,” Cashman continued. “On top of it all, playing in New York is a lot different than playing anywhere else.”

We’ve heard that last part about Boston too, here and there.

Cashman was complimentary of his current Sox counterpart, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, whose team Cashman has compared to the Golden State Warriors.

On his feelings when he first heard the Sox were getting Chris Sale:

“When that trade was consummated, that was the first thing I thought about, which was, 'Wow, look at what they've done,' ” Cashman said. “I know how it's going to play out for them. Listen, Steve Kerr does a great job managing that team -- oh, I mean John Farrell. It's a lot of talent and with talent comes pressure to perform. I think Dave Dombrowski has done everything he possibly can to provide that city with a world championship team. They've got 162 games to show it.”