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Alex Speier

Red Sox bullpen will be mightier this season

The Red Sox expect relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel to bring the heat this season.AP

It doesn’t require a great deal of imagination to appreciate how different the Red Sox bullpen will look in 2016.

A year ago, the Red Sox were bystanders to baseball’s bullpen-velocity revolution. Their relievers threw 607 pitches at 95 miles per hour or harder, a mark that ranked 27th in the majors and was more than 1,300 pitches behind the leaders in that category, the Marlins.

That should change drastically in 2016, given that newly acquired closer Craig Kimbrel singlehandedly surpassed that total last year with the Padres, unleashing 696 pitches at that velocity. On Tuesday, Kimbrel followed starter David Price in the Red Sox-Yankees game with a jaw-dropping fifth inning, pairing 97-m.p.h. fastballs with a hammer curve that elicited two strikeouts.


Junichi Tazawa and Carson Smith, both of whom touched 95 on occasion last year, contributed scoreless innings of their own.

It was a quick look, but one that suggested how different the late innings might be this year.

The Red Sox bullpen’s 92.1 average velocity ranked 24th in the big leagues last year. The late innings featured a lot of hittable offerings, with just 20 percent of plate appearances against Sox relievers ending in strikeouts — the fourth-lowest mark in the majors.

In Kimbrel (36.4 percent strikeout rate in 2015, fifth among relievers) and Smith (32.4 percent, 11th), the Sox have the sort of swing-and-miss options that were often missing once Koji Uehara (29.4 percent, 24th) was injured.

If the early spring signs from Matt Barnes (7 strikeouts in 4⅔ shutout innings) are any indication, the team features the potential for strikeouts beyond just its core.

While spring training impressions can be misleading, it’s been impossible to overlook that, in at least one aspect, the Red Sox appear drastically different than their 2015 predecessors.

Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter@alexspeier.