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NICK CAFARDO | ON BASEBALL

With Chris Sale out, can the Red Sox pitching staff pick up the slack?

The Red Sox hope Tyler Thornburg can return to his 2016 form that made him one of the top relievers in the National League.
The Red Sox hope Tyler Thornburg can return to his 2016 form that made him one of the top relievers in the National League.(Jim Davis/Globe Staff)

The Red Sox didn’t get a reliever at the trade deadline on Tuesday. And Chris Sale was placed on the disabled list. It was not a good day on the pitching front for the Red Sox.

The good news is the Red Sox have the best record in baseball. They likely can survive all of this if Sale indeed just has “mild” inflammation in his left shoulder and the Sox bullpen continues to pitch well. They can survive if Nathan Eovaldi keeps pitching well, if Drew Pomeranz returns to his 2017 form, and if Eduardo Rodriguez recovers from his badly sprained ankle. So many questions now.

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It’s a long season, but Sale is the last guy you want to land on the disabled list. Now the club’s MLB-leading $237 million payroll will be put to the test. Do the Red Sox have the depth to keep running over opponents? Should Dave Dombrowski have added another arm to the bullpen?

Related: Dave Dombrowski comfortable with Red Sox bullpen

Also, does this mean the Sale Protection Plan isn’t working? First-year manager Alex Cora has been monitoring Sale’s pitch count all season, but recurring soreness would seem to indicate the lefthander was healthier when he was throwing more pitches and more innings.

Sale said “it’s a concern, not a worry” and if this were a different point in the season he would have insisted on pitching through it.

Who knows, maybe this will work out better in the long run. A two-week layoff might be good for everyone.

And really, it’s not about now, it’s about October.

If the offense continues to put up five-plus runs a game, the Red Sox may not miss Sale for the two weeks or need another reliever for the rest of the season.

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Related: Here’s a look at which teams made deals on trade deadline day

But with a $237 million payroll comes an expectation of depth in all areas. It’s a plus to have dependable veteran relievers for the playoffs. Dombrowski’s bullpens with the Tigers sometimes fell short.

Dombrowski, in fact, tried to obtain a reliever — that tells you he believes the Red Sox still need to improve in that area. He tried to obtain Kelvin Herrera from the Royals and then the Nationals (after he was dealt to Washington) but didn’t have the necessary pieces.

Chris Sale, who before the game was placed on the 10-day disabled list, sits in the dugout Tuesday during the Red Sox’ 3-1 loss to the Phillies.
Chris Sale, who before the game was placed on the 10-day disabled list, sits in the dugout Tuesday during the Red Sox’ 3-1 loss to the Phillies.(Jim Davis/Globe Staff)

There will be relievers available before the Aug. 31 deadline — though players must first pass through waivers —

if the Red Sox bullpen begins to struggle.

So far the bullpen has been very good, despite Joe Kelly’s prolonged slump. Not everybody clicks at the same time, which is why it’s important to have that extra veteran arm down the stretch.

Dombrowski may be hoping for a bit of a bump from 30-year-old Ryan Brasier, who has been solid in nine July appearances.

Related: Four things to know about new Red Sox second baseman Ian Kinsler

“He was a quality prospect with Anaheim. He got hurt, goes to Japan, pitches well, and comes back,” Dombrowski said. “If he had come into the game last night and had a star name on the back of his jersey, the comments would be like, ‘Wow. This guy’s really good.’ But because they don’t know him really well, that’s not the comment you get.

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“I’ve seen many guys who are unknown perform very well in big games. He doesn’t get rattled. He’s been around.”

Tyler Thornburg seems to be trending toward the pitcher who had a 2.15 ERA and an 0.94 WHIP for Milwaukee in 2016 before thoracic outlet syndrome forced him to miss all of 2017 and part of 2018.

“I know people in our city haven’t had a chance to see Tyler Thornburg pitch. A couple years ago he was one of the best relief pitchers in baseball,” Dombrowski said. “He’s starting to stride back toward that. His breaking ball has been getting better and his changeup [on Monday] was real good.

Related: Kinsler: ‘They’re the best team in baseball right now. I’m happy to be aboard’

“His fastball is starting to get the additional zip. He’s touching 95 [miles per hour] on a consistent basis. Those guys are hard to find.”

Nothing says this bullpen can’t deliver the rest of the regular season and into the postseason. With Sale on the DL, Brandon Workman rejoined the club from Triple A Pawtucket. He made 21 appearances in June and July for the Red Sox, contributing a solid 18⅔ innings with a 2.89 ERA and a 1.018 WHIP.

Even the best bullpens go through ups and downs. Newly acquired Yankee Zach Britton had a rough 26-pitch, one-inning outing against the lowly Royals the other night.

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Nothing is guaranteed. But terrific bullpens can lead teams to the World Series (2016 Indians) and help win championships (2015 Royals).

Sometimes, midseason bullpen moves aren’t sure things. Remember when the Red Sox acquired Eric Gagne from Texas in 2007? That was supposed to be a slam dunk.

Related: Speier: Kinsler upgrades the Red Sox at their weakest position, second base

Overall, Dombrowski has done a good job improving the roster before the trade deadline.

He acquired Steve Pearce and Ian Kinsler to add depth and defense to the infield. He now can use Eduardo Nunez at third base to spell Rafael Devers.

Dombrowski indicated there were other deals the team could have made but he didn’t want to disturb a new core they’re trying to build in the minors.

“There are just some players we don’t want to trade at this point because we’re trying to build our system back,” Dombrowski said.

“You’d be surprised at the level of interest in our A-ball level [players] on down. They haven’t gotten a lot of attention yet, but we found there was quite a bit of interest in those guys.”

This wasn’t the best of days for pitching in Boston. A little adversity in a year that so far has been tilted in the Red Sox’ favor.


Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.