FORT MYERS, Fla. — Ryan Brasier was an unemployed, rather nondescript righthanded relief pitcher at this time a year ago. His only major league experience consisted of seven games with the Los Angeles Angels in 2013.
The Red Sox signed Brasier to a minor-league contract that did not include an invitation to major league spring training. At 30, he was starting over again, knowing it could be his last chance.
Brasier was called up from the minors in July, had a 1.60 earned run average and 0.77 WHIP in 34 appearances, then appeared in nine of the team’s 14 postseason games, giving up one run over 8⅔ innings.
“It was beyond anything I could have imagined,” Brasier said.
Now, as spring training starts again, Brasier is a template of sorts for the Red Sox as they look for relievers who can contribute at some point in the coming season.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and manager Alex Cora dropped Brasier’s name frequently in recent months when asked how the Sox would replace the innings pitched by Joe Kelly, now a Los Angeles Dodger, and Craig Kimbrel, who remains a free agent.
“Ryan opened our eyes,” Cora said. “There are guys out there who can do the job. You have to identify them.”
Instead of signing proven bullpen talent — at least so far — the Sox have instead collected an assortment of low-risk hopefuls who will be given the same chance Brasier got.
Colten Brewer, Brian Ellington, Jenrry Mejia, Zach Putnam, Erasmo Ramirez, Dan Runzler, Josh Smith, Josh Taylor, and Ryan Weber are among the relievers the Sox will take a look at.
If one or two provide the boost Brasier did last season, the Sox will be satisfied. But a more important question will be whether Brasier can perform to the level he did in 2018 over a full season and in higher-leverage situations.
As the roster stands now, Brasier and Matt Barnes will be the primary late-inning relievers.
“One pitch at a time, just attack hitters like I did last year and fill up the strike zone,” Brasier said. “I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself.”
Counting the postseason, Brasier faced only three individual hitters more than three times last season. This season will be one of adjustments as opponents get a better look at Brasier and formulate better game plans against him.
“There’s always pressure, especially on a team like this,” said Brasier, one of 15 pitchers who worked out at Fenway South on Friday morning. “After winning the World Series last year there will be expectations on us and we’ll have expectations for ourselves.”
Brasier averaged a healthy 97 miles per hour with his four-seam fastball last season but had a modest 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings. His goal is to locate his pitches effectively, not necessarily blow them by the hitter.
“Get ahead and finish,” Brasier said. “I want to expand the [strike] zone and produce weak contact. I know how I have to pitch.”
Brasier enjoyed the opportunities presented a World Series champion over the offseason. Taking his son, Kolton, to Patriots, Celtics, and Cowboys games and meeting some of the players was a particular highlight. But he’s not taking his position for granted.
“Spring training was fun last year,” he said. “I had a lot of opportunities to throw and threw well. A good season starts with a good spring training. I want to do the same things I did last year. I have to have some good clean innings in spring training and build on those.”
With pitchers and catchers set to officially report on Tuesday, most of the players will take the weekend off . . . With only a few exceptions, nearly every pitcher returning from last season worked out at Fenway South on Friday. Heath Hembree and Hector Velazquez were among the newcomers . . . Former Red Sox pitcher Derek Lowe, a Fort Myers resident, stopped by to work with Rick Porcello. While Porcello is not as sinker-dependent as he once was, he still values Lowe’s insights . . . Friday morning’s workout was briefly interrupted when a small snake slithered onto the field adjacent to the clubhouse and drew a crowd of curious players. Brandon Workman grabbed a nearby shovel and relocated the snake to a nearby drainage ditch. His first save, you might say.