Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was exploring the possibility of one more deal Monday night, for a relief pitcher, but once the potential trade partner decided to switch directions, Dombrowski said he felt comfortable with the moves he made leading up to Tuesday’s deadline.
“It was one of the few guys that we put in that position that we thought would be an upgrade for us,” Dombrowski said.
While the Sox shored up their infield by trading for second baseman Ian Kinsler, Dombrowski held off on making any additions to the bullpen.
When he assessed the arms that were already there Dombrowski believed they were more than capable.
“First of all, we improved our club in a lot of other directions, and we kept thinking, in our own internal conversations we had, we really felt the other areas of improvement were more significant for us,” Dombrowski said before Tuesday night’s 3-1 loss to the Phillies. “So when we got [Nathan] Eovaldi, that was really the top for us to get a starter that we could slide in the bullpen if we needed to at a later time.
“We talked about bullpen or improving our defense in the infield at second base, we felt that second base was more important for us with the defensive aspect of it. “
As he weighed which areas needed the most improvement, Dombrowski said the performances of Tyler Thornburg and Ryan Brasier since just before the All-Star break helped tip the scales.
“Part of our conversations earlier before the All-Star Game, we had said let’s keep an eye on how our pitching progresses and how these guys progress,” Dombrowski said. “And if they had not progressed as they have, then we may have very well flip-flopped, but we really liked the progress.”
Acquired in 2016, Thornburg missed the 2017 season after undergoing surgery on his pitching shoulder.
He finally made his Red Sox debut on July 6. In 10 appearances, he has a 5.19 ERA, but over his last five games, he’s thrown 4⅓ scoreless innings.
“I know people in our city haven’t had a chance to see Tyler Thornburg pitch a couple years ago,” Dombrowski said. “This guy’s one of the best relief pitchers in baseball, and he’s starting to stride back toward that.”
Thornburg’s season changed in Detroit on July 22, a day after he allowed a three-run homer to Jose Iglesias in a game the Red Sox lost, 5-0. Working with pitching coach Dana LeVangie, Thornburg made a change in his delivery that improved his footwork.
“It got my timing back,” Thornburg said. “Just a little adjustment.”
Thornburg pitched later that day and retired three hitters on seven pitches, all strikes.
Since that session with LeVangie, Thornburg has taken off, setting down 12 of the 13 batters he’s faced in that five-game stretch, striking out five.
Brasier lowered his ERA to 0.90 by throwing a scoreless 10th inning in the Sox’ 2-1 win over the Phillies on Monday.
It was his eighth scoreless appearance in nine games this season.
“Brasier has thrown the ball great for us,” Dombrowski said.
The glaring variable is Joe Kelly, who has put together back-to-back scoreless appearances after giving up eight runs over his previous four games.
“We all know the importance of Joe Kelly,” Dombrowski said. “We think we’ve found something mechanically. The last two outings have been good once again.”
Heath Hembree has emerged as a reliable go-to pitcher in the middle innings with men on base, Matt Barnes has excelled as a setup man, and Craig Kimbrel already has posted his eighth straight 30-save season.
Looking ahead, Dombrowski said the Sox are in position to get back starters Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright. Both could also offer help in the bullpen.
“We think realistically that our bullpen’s pretty good,” Dombrowski said. “Some of the additions that we think the improvements can come from within. When you start looking at players outside the organization that were available, we think we have comparable players internally in most places.”
And while there’s been speculation that third-round draft pick Durbin Feltman might be an option as a late-season call-up, Dombrowski downplayed the notion.
“We didn’t draft him with that anticipation,” he said.
With Chris Sale going on the 10-day disabled list, Brandon Workman was called up from Triple A Pawtucket.
Just checking in
Once the Sox finalized their trade for Kinsler, manager Alex Cora reached out to second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who’s been in Arizona rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee.
“Alex called Dustin just to let him know we were making the deal, so he was not caught by surprise,” Dombrowski said. “He said he was fine. He understood.”
Pedroia, who started the season on the disabled list after undergoing a cartilage restoration procedure in the offseason, was limited to three games before going back on the disabled list June 2.
Dombrowski said the team doesn’t anticipate Pedroia returning this season but isn’t ruling it out.
“I don’t think that he needs that pressure to have to come back anyway, and if he does we’ll happily deal with it at the time,” Dombrowski said.
The feeling of Seranthony Dominguez’s 99.1 miles-per-hour two-seamer ricocheting off his right hand in the ninth inning of the Sox’ 3-1 loss to the Phillies Tuesday was frighteningly familiar to Xander Bogaerts.
“Right away,” he said. “This was a bit harder. As soon as I got hit, I was like, ‘I can’t believe it.’ ’’
In July of 2017, Bogaerts was hit in nearly the same spot by Rays pitcher Jake Faria.
On Tuesday, Bogaerts was diagnosed with a right hand contusion and X-rays were negative. But he’d heard the same thing last year.
“Last year, I think it was kind of the same thing and I don’t want that feeling again,” he said.
The injury lingered with Bogaerts throughout the second half of last season. He was hitting .308 before getting hit. After, he hit just .232.
After going 1 for 4 Tuesday, Bogaerts is hitting .271 with 16 homers and 64 RBIs.
“It happens, it’s part of the game,” Bogaerts said. “If I don’t foul off those first two pitches, I mean, I wouldn’t get hit. But we’ll see how I feel.”
Lap of luxury
At the start of the season, the Sox and Nationals were the only two teams in baseball projected to pay the luxury tax.
The Sox’ payroll at the start of the season was $233.4 million, and their expected penalty was $9.4 million.
“I think the feeling is here that this year, I don’t know what will happen, but we have a chance to win, so we’re all in, and that’s what the ownership has expressed that they’re willing to do with us,” Dombrowski said. “We’re not going to look to shed salaries, we’re looking to win at this point.”
Vazquez on schedule
Christian Vazquez, on the disabled list since July 5 with a fractured right pinkie, was in the clubhouse Tuesday. He’s waiting on doctor’s clearance to get back on the field. “Then it’s a matter of building him back up at that point,” Dombrowski said. “We always thought it would be six weeks. Probably around the first of September.” . . . Mookie Betts was out of the starting lineup, a scheduled off day. Andrew Benintendi moved into the leadoff spot. Blake Swihart hit second for the third time this season. Betts came on as a pinch hitter in the ninth and popped out.