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It remains to be seen for how long the Red Sox will be without Carson Smith, the righthanded reliever who heaved a sigh of relief on Thursday at the realization that he’d avoid Tommy John surgery.

Nonetheless, even if Smith ends up missing just the first couple weeks of the season with a flexor mass strain, the timing is particularly cruel.

After the Sox’ season-opening series in Cleveland, they will face the Blue Jays seven times in 11 days, staring down the game’s most dominant ensemble of righthanded mashers in the game. Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion represented an unrivaled middle-of-the-order last year.

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In between those two series against the Jays will be a three-game set with an Orioles team that likewise centers on righthanded mashers Manny Machado and Adam Jones.

Smith was one of baseball’s most dominant relievers against righties last year. He struck out 38.4 percent of the righties he faced, the fifth highest rate in the game (just behind Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman). Righties had a paltry .167/.248/.254 line against him.

The Red Sox don’t have anyone who can replace that sort of dominance in righthanded matchups. Frankly, few teams in baseball have anyone who can replicate those sorts of numbers, part of the reason why the Red Sox jumped at the chance to acquire the reliever this offseason.

While the Sox still appear to have a solid back-end of the bullpen with Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara in front of closer Craig Kimbrel, the team must now scramble to find the sort of right-on-right matchup that can help to navigate rough waters in the sixth or seventh inning against their AL East rivals.

Matt Barnes has thrown well in camp, and represents the likeliest candidate to help fill the vacuum left by Smith.

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Manager John Farrell identified Barnes as a potential middle innings strikeout option out of the bullpen. Still, righties tagged him at a .333/.383/.576 rate in 2015 – with that slugging percentage representing the seventh-highest in the game by any pitcher who faced at least 100 righthanded hitters.

Noe Ramirez, seemingly the other leading righthanded candidate for the role thanks in part to a low arm slot that should be tough on righties, nonetheless got tagged by big league righthanded hitters at a .262/.367/.500 rate with three homers allowed in just 49 plate appearances last year.

At a time when the Red Sox seem almost desperate to get off to a fast start, the loss of Smith for any length of time is a painful one to endure. The middle innings whiff of uncertainty that will exist in his absence – amplified somewhat by the fact that Koji Uehara currently is limited by what Farrell described as “general soreness” – represents a season-opening obstacle that underscores how the regular season is not won with offseason blueprints but with the Plans B and C and D that are necessitated by the unexpected twists of the season.


Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.