Mujica's struggles cast cloud on home opener

Mujica's struggles cast cloud on home opener
April 4, 2014, 7:30 pm
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BOSTON --When the Red Sox signed reliever Edward Mujica to a two-year deal last winter, it was with a dual purpose: to provide another experienced, late-inning arm for the Red Sox bullpen, and to have an heir apparent to Koji Uehara in the closer role should the seemingly ageless Uehara not return for 2015.     

With Uehara unavailable Friday after pitching each of the previous two nights, Mujica got his introduction to the ninth-inning job - and promptly tripped over himself, surrendering four runs in what had been a tie game, and leading directly to a 6-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers in the Red Sox' home opener.     

First Mujica yielded a leadoff double to left to Khrys Davis. Mujica then fielded a bunt try by Scooter Gennett, and guided by batterymate A.J. Pierzynski, threw to third to try to cut down the Brewers' lead baserunner.    

"We tried to be aggressive and get the lead runner on the bunt,'' said Pierzynski, "and it kind of led to a big inning instead of just getting the guy out. Those things happen. I thought (Gennett) bunted it, he bunted it hard enough that we could get (Davis) at third. The play was in front of me and I thought we had a chance.     

"We tried to be aggressive. Unfortunately, it was a real close play and he was safe. It could have maybe gone either way and they called him safe and it ended up being a big inning.''    

Indeed, it was all downhill from there for Mujica, who gave up a two-run double to Lyle Overbay. Two more run-scoring singles -- one to Carlos Gomez, the second to Aramis Ramirez -- produced two more runs.     

It was the first outing in which Mujica had given up at least four runs since he allowed five on Aug. 4, 2010, more than four years ago.     

The implosion also snapped a scoreless streak for the Red Sox bullpen, which had blanked the opposition for the first 9 2/3 innings of relief work this season -- three outings covering 7 2/3 innings in Baltimore, and another two scoreleess innings from Burke Badenhop in the seventh and eighth.     

Mujica's control is usually pinpoint -- his career strikeout-to-walk ratio is 5.16-to-1 -- and because the Brewers saw him frequently the last two seasons when Mujica pitched in the N.L. Central for St. Louis, the Brewers took an unusually aggressive approach.     

"They swung at everything,'' said Pierzynski. "They know he's going to throw strikes, so they swung at everything. He was a little bit up (with his pitches) and if you make mistakes in this league, it's the big leagues and they're going to hurt you.''     

"They came out swinging against Mujica,'' said Farrell. "He mislocated a couple of pitches and unfortunately today, paid for it.''     

It has to be hugely tempting for Farrell to go to Uehara every time his team is ahead or tied in the ninth inning, since the manager often describes those appearances as "the most comfortable innings we have.''     

Certainly, that was the case Thursday night at Camden Yards, when Uehara inherited a one-run lead and promptly got the final three outs with a grand total of seven pitches.     

Uehara is the ultimate security blanket. But particularly at 39, he can't be overworked, especially early in the season. Farrell has to take the long view.     

"Even if we're tied in the tenth,'' said Farrell, "it was probably going to be (Brandon) Workman. Given that it's this early in the year, I didn't want to go to (Uehara) three days in a game after a night
game...the travel. All things considered, both he and (Junichi Tazawa) were the two guys we wanted to stay away from today.''     

And it's not as though Mujica is an unknown quanity. Before being injured in August, he notched 37 saves and had a tidy 1.005 WHIP.     

But Friday was a reminder -- as if one was necessary -- that just because a manager has options, it doesn't mean he has guarantees.     

Depth and game plans are one thing, and performance is another. In the home opener, Mujica failed with the latter.     

In a role where the margin for error is already notoriously thin, that was too much for the Red Sox to overcome.