July 4, 2010

The 'pen needs relief

Boston's bullpen has had problems, but it's questionable whether help is on the way.

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BOSTON - When the Boston Red Sox split a two-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays last week, it was an upsetting time for the bullpen.

Jonathan Papelbon
click image to enlarge

Jonathan Papelbon remains the saving grace in the Boston Red Sox bullpen, but with three blown saves and a 3.71 earned-run average, he hasn’t been the Jonathan Papelbon that the team has known in the past.

The Associated Press

Manny Delcarmen
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Manny Delcarmen has gone on the disabled list with forearm stress, causing more stress for the bullpen.

The Associated Press

Additional Photos Below

Not only did the bullpen (namely Manny Delcarmen) give up six runs in a 9-4 loss on Wednesday, but Tuesday's performance was nearly as bad.

Here was Boston with an 8-1 lead, yet both Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon still needed to be used in an 8-5 victory.

Bard and Papelbon are supposed to be preserving close wins in the eighth and ninth innings, not bailing out the rest of the bullpen.

And as Boston reaches the halfway mark in its 162-game season, it needs to address a serious concern.

Yes, the injuries throughout the Red Sox roster are troubling. But most of those guys on the disabled list are supposed to be coming back to give Boston a boost for the homestretch, difference-makers like Josh Beckett, Victor Martinez and Dustin Pedroia, not to mention Jacoby Ellsbury and Jason Varitek.

The only reliever on the disabled list is Delcarmen, who was diagnosed with forearm stress.

Who knows if Delcarmen can come back, let alone return and help?

And help is needed.

Delcarmen has a 4.59 ERA. His mates in the bullpen include Ramon Ramirez (4.88), Hideki Okajima (5.81) and Scott Atchison (4.62).

Left-hander Dustin Richardson is up from Triple-A and basically trying out. His ERA is 3.86, but his WHIP (walks/hits per inning) is 2.14.

"It hasn't been seamless," Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein said of the bullpen. "We're fighting the ups and downs, to get to a point where we have a really reliable 'pen. The talent's there.

"Atchison is stepping up and finding a niche as a multi-inning guy. Still feel really good about the back end of our 'pen with (Papelbon), despite his recent struggles, and Bard, who has done an excellent job.

"Delcarmen, Ramirez and (Okajima) continue to be three key guys. When those three guys pitch well, we have a really, really good bullpen."

Epstein was speaking earlier last week, before Delcarmen hit the DL.

Still, Epstein really has little reason to hope Ramirez and Okajima can turn it around.

There is even concern with Papelbon (3-4, 3.71 ERA), with three blown saves. But he remains a force, albeit not as dominant as years past.

Bard (1-2, 2.04) is having a great year, but maybe too good. Manager Terry Francona relies heavily on Bard, who leads the league with 39 appearances.

So what is Epstein to do? The obvious answer is a trade. But, of course, this is not fantasy baseball, where easy deals are out there to be made.

"Every contending team could always use another useful reliever," Epstein said. "That's something teams are always looking to add, and we're probably no different.

"It's not a condemnation of our current 'pen. But to be realistic, a really good reliever always makes your team better."

Some names being mentioned are Arizona's Chad Qualls and Cleveland's Kerry Wood. Both have struggled, although Wood's ERA in June was 3.48. Both probably would not need much in return since Boston would have to take on salaries (the rest of Qualls' $4 million or Wood's $10.5 million).

Other names will come up. Epstein said he has to be careful.

"When you trade for two or three months worth of a reliever, it doesn't matter if you're getting a good one or a great one, you still don't know what you're going to get," Epstein said.

"You don't necessarily want to give up really, really good prospects to get that type of guy because you're not sure what you're going to get in a small sample size from a reliever."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

Ramon Santiago, Ramon Ramirez
click image to enlarge

Ramon Ramirez, right, hasn’t been the do-all, end-all in the bullpen, and isn’t an end-of-close-game option.

The Associated Press

Hideki Okajima
click image to enlarge

Hideki Okajima has had fine seasons as a left-hander in the bullpen but no, this isn’t one of them.

The Associated Press

Scott Atchison
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Scott Atchison has had good and bad moments with Boston, but if he and the other middle relievers can turn it around, the Red Sox could be a force in the second half of the season.

The Associated Press



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