Heading into the 2013 season, Red Sox skipper John Farrell had to feel very strongly about his bullpen’s ability to close out tight ballgames. Joel Hanrahan, who had saved 76 games over the previous two seasons with the Pirates, was acquired to be the stopper. Andrew Bailey, who is one of the most dominating right-handed relievers in baseball when healthy, and who finished the 2012 campaign as the Red Sox closer, was slated to be their set-up man in the eighth inning. If that wasn’t enough, they also boasted Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa and Daniel Bard. Most prognosticators predicted them to have one of the most dominant bullpens in the league.
Fast forward 32 games into the season, and what was supposed to be the strength of the team is starting to look like a glaring weakness. As a team, the Red Sox are off to a tremendous start. They sit at 22-11 heading into play on Tuesday, which is the best mark in all of baseball. The bullpen situation however, hasn’t been quite as good.
Hanrahan began the season in the closer’s role, and pitched very well through his first four outings, converting each of his first three save chances. Then came a debacle against the Orioles on April 10, where he blew his first save chance of the season and allowed five runs in 2/3 of an inning. In his next outing, he walked each of the two batters he faced, was yanked from the game and hit the disabled list shortly afterward with a right hamstring injury.
In his absence, Andrew Bailey took the job and ran with it. In eight appearances while Hanrahan was sidelined, Bailey posted a 2.25 ERA and 13/2 K/BB ratio over eight innings of work, while converting 5 of his 6 save chances.
When Hanrahan returned on April 30, he had been relegated to pitch in a setup role with Bailey firmly entrenched in the ninth inning. However, as is often the story with Andrew Bailey, he was forced to the disabled list with a right biceps injury. Enter, once again, Joel Hanrahan.
Hanrahan converted his first save opportunity since returning from the disabled list, and fourth on the season, against the Blue Jays on Thursday. With another fine outing or two while Bailey is sidelined, he could have gained quite a bit of security in that role. However on Monday, Hanrahan served up a game-tying homer to Brian Dozier in the ninth inning, and then was removed after 2/3 of an inning with tightness in his right forearm. It seems likely that he’ll soon join Bailey on the disabled list.
So who do the Red Sox turn to now in the ninth inning? The two obvious choices seem to be Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa.
The 38-year-old Uehara has pitched well in 15 appearances, compiling a 2.63 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 17/2 K/BB ratio. He has some experience in the role, having recorded 14 career saves (13 with Baltimore in 2010).
Tazawa has also pitched very well on the season, though most of his appearances have been in the seventh inning, as opposed to the eighth for Uehara. Tazawa sports a 2.51 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 18/3 K/BB ratio over 14 1/3 innings.
There’s little doubt in my mind that either hurler could be a very effective option in the ninth inning. The only thing that matters though is opportunity, and which pitcher John Farrell will trust with the game on the line. If I were a fantasy owner desperately speculating for saves, which I am, Uehara is the guy I’m targeting.
A Brave New World
23-year-old shortstop Andrelton Simmons has long been lauded for his outstanding chops defensively. On Monday, he displayed some of the tremendous potential that lies in his bat.
Simmons produced the first multi-homer effort of his young career, smacking a pair over the boards in the Braves 7-4 victory over the Reds in Cincinnati. He got the party started with a solo shot off Bronson Arroyo in the second inning then provided valuable insurance with a two-run bomb off Logan Ondrusek in the eighth.
While his overall line on the season doesn’t look impressive at first glance, .252/.305/.402, he has been on a tear over his last 10 games, hitting .325 (13-for-40) with three homers and eight RBI. He has now hit more home runs (seven) in 273 major league at-bats, than he did in 1,042 at-bats in his minor league career (six).
With the ability to reach double digits in both home runs and stolen bases, Simmons is quickly becoming a very attractive fantasy option.
Arencibia Homer Caps Massive Comeback
The Blue Jays, losers of eight of their last ten heading into play, found themselves looking at a 7-0 deficit after just three innings of action against the Rays on Monday.
Instead of bowing their collective heads in defeat, they started to chip away. Colby Rasmus got them on the board with a two-run blast in the fourth inning. Mark DeRosa socked a two-run dinger of his own in the sixth, cutting the deficit to 7-5. After Jose Bautista tacked on a sacrifice fly in the eighth, the table was set for the dramatic victory in the ninth inning.
With Fernando Rodney called upon to complete a five-out save, the Jays got the tying run on base to lead off the ninth, courtesy of a walk to Adam Lind. Emilio Bonifacio pinch-ran for Lind and immediately swiped second base. After a strikeout and a groundout however, the Jays were down to their final out.
Down to his final strike, that’s when J.P. Arencibia stepped his game up, smashing a game-winning two-run blast over the wall in left. The 27-year-old backstop may never hit for an appealing average, but has been exceedingly productive, smashing nine home runs and driving home 18 runs on the season.
National League Quick Hits: Anthony Rizzo homered and plated four runs in a victory over the Rangers. He’s hitting .450 (18-for-40) with three homers and 11 RBI in his last 11 games… Andrew Cashner tossed 7 1/3 scoreless innings in a victory over the Marlins… Brian McCann returned to the Braves lineup for the first time of the season, going 0-for-4 with a walk and a strikeout... Scott Feldman pitched another gem, shutting out the Rangers for seven innings, and owns a 1.63 ERA over his last four starts… Jedd Gyorko homered for the second consecutive game, and is hitting .333 (18-for-54) with three homers and six RBI in his last 14 games… Juan Pierre swiped his NL-leading 12th base… Hunter Pence went 3-for-3 and socked his sixth homer of the season… Michael Young had three hits and a pair of RBI to lead the Phillies over the Giants… Cliff Lee earned his third victory, fanning six over eight strong innings… Paul Goldschmidt had four hits, including his sixth home run of the season, in a victory over the Dodgers… Trevor Cahill pitched seven strong innings, and delivered a two-run triple against the Dodgers… Carl Crawford smacked his fifth long ball of the year… Everth Cabrera stole a pair of bases, giving him 10 on the season… Domonic Brown hit his sixth home run of the season, and is hitting .311 with four dingers and nine RBI in his last 12 games… Mark Ellis was finally placed on the disabled list with a strained quad… Madison Bumgarner had his worst start of the year, surrendering five runs over six innings against the Phillies… Jason Heyward took batting practice Monday and could be looking at a mid-May return from the DL.
American League Quick Hits: James Shields delivered a masterful performance against the White Sox, fanning nine and allowing just two hits over eight scoreless innings, but was denied a victory with Greg Holland’s blown save… Asdrubal Cabrera launched his third and fourth home runs of the season in a victory over the A’s… Evan Longoria belted a grand slam as part of a 7-run third inning… Hiroyuki Nakajima (hamstring) will continue his rehab assignment on Tuesday… An MRI on Josh Johnson’s triceps came back negative… Jarrod Parker allowed four home runs in a loss to the Indians, and left early due to a minor neck strain… Ubaldo Jimenez fanned eight in a victory over the A’s… Astros designated Rick Ankiel and Fernando Martinez for assignment… Clay Buchholz failed to earn a win for the first time all season, settling for a no-decision against the Twins… Stephen Drew went 4-for-5 with a homer and game-winning double… Jordan Danks hit a game-winning solo homer in the 11th inning against the Royals… Mark Reynolds clobbered his 10th homer of the season… Brian Dozier hit a game-tying homer off Joel Hanrahan in the ninth inning… Addison Reed bounced back from a rough outing, recording his 11th save of the season… Vinnie Pestano was placed on the 15-day DL with right elbow tendinitis… David Ortiz extended his hitting streak to 26 games with an eighth inning double.