Matt Barnes’s inability to provide the Sox with a reliable late-innings arm has helped to expose a critical shortcoming for the Red Sox.
Opponents hit a robust .343/.398/.586 against Barnes, who was sent down to Pawtucket Sunday. Batters also knocked a dozen extra-base hits (6 homers, 6 doubles) against him. Among relievers with at least 20 appearances, Barnes had yielded the highest average, third-highest OBP, and second-highest slugging mark in the game.
Overall, the Sox bullpen has gotten hammered for a .431 slugging mark, worst in the big leagues, and there’s little evidence of internal solutions on the horizon. The situation is sufficiently acute that manager John Farrell, after his team ended the first half with a Sunday loss to the Yankees, took the unusual step of noting the need for reinforcements.
“I will focus on the way we’ve been playing of late and that is much improved,” he told reporters following the loss. “But to add some arms to the group that we have, obviously with [Clay Buchholz’s] situation and he going down, that would go a long way to stabilize things.”
Like Barnes, Jonathan Aro got hit hard in his callup. Pat Light is having unnerving control problems in Triple A Pawtucket that suggest he won’t soon be ready to help. Dalier Hinojosa, signed after the 2013 season to a $4 million bonus, was designated for assignment over the weekend.
Joe Kelly, who has a 3.25 career ERA out of the bullpen with 3.5 strikeouts per walk (more than double his 1.7 strikeouts per walk as a starter) represents the team’s one proven solution in Triple A. Justin Masterson cruised through an inning of work (two groundballs and a flyout) in his first relief outing of the year on Friday against the Yankees.
It is worth noting that at least one scout who has followed lefty Brian Johnson for some time believes he has the ability to be a dominant late-innings arm, with the possibility that he could combine command and a multi-pitch mix with the high-end velocity he’s shown in professional games (about 94), instead of the 88-92 where he typically sits.
At any rate, the Sox face a pressing need to deepen their bullpen for both the duration of this season — and beyond while also figuring out how to develop a successful pipeline of relievers — so that they aren’t pushed into a position where trade and free agent reinforcements become an ongoing necessity.
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