McAdam: Sox need continuing relief

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McAdam: Sox need continuing relief

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
BOSTON -- The winning hit was delivered by Jacoby Ellsbury, the winning slide from unlikely pinch-runner Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

But perhaps the real key to the Red Sox' 3-2 win over Cleveland Tuesday night came from the bullpen, which provided three innings of one-hit relief.

Franklin Morales, who recorded three strikeouts in two innings of work, pitched as well as he has since arriving in a trade from Colorado earlier this season. Jonathan Papelbon, entering a tie game in the top of the ninth, overpowered the Indians in an impressive ninth.

It's precisely this kind of contribution from the bullpen that the Red Sox are going to need in the coming weeks.

Consider:

Clay Buchholz is likely finished for the regular season, replaced for the next two months by Erik Bedard.

Bedard has thrown all of 1 13 innings at the major-league level over the last five weeks. He'll be on a pitch count Thursday when he makes his Red Sox debut.

It's likely to take at least two starts for Bedard to fully build up stamina and be cleared to go as deep into games as the situation dicates, without regard to pitch count.

For the time being, the Sox will continue to use both Andrew Miller and Tim Wakefield in the rotation.

In eight starts to date, Miller has yet to pitch beyond the sixth inning. In fact, in three of those starts, he's failed to get into the sixth.

Wakefield, meanwhile, turned 45 Tuesday, and while he pitched well in his last start in Chicago (three runs in seven innings), he pitched past the sixth just 6 times in 14 starts this season.

Finally, there's John Lackey, who remains as enigmatic as ever.

Though Lackey has generally pitched better since coming off the disabled list with an elbow injury, he remains far from dependable when it comes to going deep into starts. Just 7 times in his first 18 starts has Lackey gotten an out past the sixth inning, and seven times, he's given up five or more runs, putting his team sometimes hopelessly behind.

Boston's collective bullpen ERA is 3.49, ranking it sixth in the American League, about half a run higher than the league-leading Yankees at 3.07. Ranked against all teams, the Red Sox are 14th among the 30 clubs, decidedly middle-of-the-pack.

At the trade deadline, the team understandably focused on upgrading the rotation, armed with the-then undisclosed news that Buchholz was not likely to return during the regular season.

That strategy was in contrast to the approach taken by the Texas Rangers, who, ranked 11th in AL bullpen ERA, determined that they had to prop up the back end of their pitching staff. The Rangers landed Mike Adams and Koji Uehara.

The deals gave the Rangers arguably the deepest and most dominant bullpen in the American League.

If the Red Sox had a bullpen upgrade in mind, they didn't address it. They could use a more experienced lefty for matchup purposes, especially given the makeup of some of their potential opponents come October (New York, Texas).

(Despite needing a roster spot to make room for Bedard's activation, the Sox held on to Randy Williams Tuesday, giving them a second lefty option in the bullpen with the left-leaning Indians in town and the Yankees due this weekend).

But Williams and Morales aren't proven matchup lefties. Williams has had too little consistency at the major-league level and Morales has frequently struggled with his command.

There may still be time to pick up a reliever in a waiver deal this month, but for now, the load will fall on Daniel Bard, whose scoreless streak of 26 13 innings was snapped Monday, and Matt Albers to bridge the team to Jonathan Papelbon.

(Papelbon, it should be noted, has exactly one blown save at almost exactly the two-third mark of the season).

Partiuclarly as they navigate the next few weeks, Alfredo Aceves may be one of the most importnat pitchers on the staff, with the ability to provide multiple innings in relief. Seven times this year, Aceves has pitched three or more innings; the Sox are 6-1 in those games.

Without reinforcements, the trio of Aceves, Albers and Bard will be counted upon greatly from the sixth through the eighth. How well they respond will go a long way in determining how the Red Sox finish the season.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

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