Three things we learned about the Red Sox on Wednesday

Three things we learned about the Red Sox on Wednesday
August 7, 2014, 12:45 pm
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ST. LOUIS -- Three things we learned last night:

1) John Farrell didn't have his best night with in-game moves.

In the later innings, there were some questionable strategic decisions made by the Red Sox manager.

It began with his decision in the eighth to have pinch-hitter Will Middlebrooks bunt with Mookie Betts representing the go-ahead run on first and no out.

Middlebrooks was sent up to hit for pitcher Joe Kelly, which made sense. Kelly was at 97 pitches after seven innings and a pinch-hitter made sense, given the tie score.

But to send Middlebrooks up to hit against a lefty, only to have him bunt, made little sense. Middlebrooks has power, which is the reason he's still with the team and being given an opportunity to play in the final two months of a lost season.

If the Sox wanted to bunt Betts into scoring position -- a reasonable enough plan -- why not have Kelly, who had far more experience bunting as a National League pitcher, hit for himself?

Even if the Sox didn't want to consider sending Kelly back out for the bottom of the eighth, he still could have bunted. Sending a big swinging, power-hitter up to bunt made little sense.

The next curious move came in the ninth when, after Yoenis Cespedes and Mike Napoli reached, giving the Sox runners at second and third with no out.

With Daniel Nava due, Farrell had David Ortiz pinch-hit. But with first base open, the Cardinals predictably elected to walk Ortiz to fill the bases. Ortiz's pinch-hit availability had been wasted.

Farrell's explanation was that he thought the Cards would pitch to Nava, and then the Sox had a run of right-handed hitters -- Xander Bogaerts, Christian Vazquez, Betts -- due. And because he had already burned Middlebrooks, Farrell couldn't hit Ortiz for an infielder because he had no one else to play those positions.

The last thing Farrell wanted to do was to have a close game end without utilizing Ortiz off the bench.

That explanation at least made some sense, and the Sox did get a run out of the inning when Bogaerts delivered a sacrifice fly.

But the decision to have Middlebrooks bunt doesn't seem any more logical 12 hours after the fact.

2) The Sox are operating with a thin bullpen after trading Andrew Miller.

Until Miller was traded, Farrell could use either the lefty or Junichi Tazawa in the eighth inning. Without Miller, he has only two late-inning relievers he can trust -- Tazawa and closer Koji Uehara.

Tazawa, though he recorded a 1-2-3 inning in the eighth Wednesday night, appears to have hit the same wall he encountered late last season. Over his last seven games, dating back to July 25, Tazawa has compiled an ERA of 8.10.

Without Miller to lighten the set-up load, the Sox have to strike a delicate balance with their use of Tazawa. As it is, he's pitched in four of the first six games since the trading deadline.

Burke Badenhop is a reliable seventh-inning option, or someone who can be called upon when a ground ball and double play opportunity is needed.

But Badenhop doesn't make batters swing-and-miss the way Tazawa (9.2 strikeouts per nine inning) does, making it tough to use him in a one-run game in the eighth.

And on nights when Tazawa and/or Uehara aren't available for the final two innings because of recent use, the Red Sox are in trouble.

3) Koji Uehara is looking more human of late.

Uehara got the save Wednesday night, recording No. 22 in his 24th opportunity. But he allowed two base hits in the ninth and had the tying run in scoring position before getting John Jay on a game-ending fielder's choice.

That continued a run in which Uehara has allowed more baserunners.

Consider: Until July 10, Uehara had made 34 appearances of exactly one inning. In 20 of those, or 59 percent, he had retired all three batters in a succession.

But since July 10, Uehara has had nine such one-inning outings and only gone 1-2-3 in four of them, or 44 percent.

Small sample size? Sure. But also, perhaps, an indication that Uehara is tired. He is, after all, 39 years old, one of the game's oldest closers, and he's seen a lot of high-leverage pressurized innings in the last year-plus that he's served as a closer for the Sox.

And a reminder that, as good as he's been, there will be some risk involved if Uehara returns as Red Sox closer next season at age 40.