MINNEAPOLIS — For a Red Sox bullpen that has at times seemed an arm short this year, there seems an obvious solution.
With Nathan Eovaldi’s return from surgery to remove elbow chips having been delayed by a roughly two-week shutdown because of biceps soreness, the righthander represents a candidate to provide greater depth and an electric late-innings arm. And, if he were to go to the bullpen, it might accelerate his return to the big leagues, rather than requiring a more deliberate buildup of innings across simulated games and rehab starts.
Eovaldi has been cleared to resume throwing in an effort to rebuild arm strength. He played catch here Tuesday for the second straight day.
Is the idea of shifting him to the bullpen on the radar of the Red Sox?
“I don’t think so,” said president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. “You never rule anything out, but he’s really not that far away from starting again, and we need a solid fifth starter.
“I’d say you never say never, but we really have not discussed that. All we’ve discussed is bringing him back as a starter.”
While the Red Sox certainly could use an additional arm, or arms, in the bullpen, the team views stability in the fifth spot of the rotation as a more pressing need. The Sox have gotten 14 combined starts from five pitchers (Hector Velazquez, Ryan Weber, Josh Smith, Brian Johnson, and Darwinzon Hernandez) who represented depth options beyond the starting five of Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Eovaldi with whom the team opened the year.
In those 14 starts, the group has a combined 2-7 record and 7.31 ERA while averaging just over three innings. The Red Sox have actually been able to claim wins in a number of games in which they’ve gotten brutally short starts.
But the consequences for the bullpen of trying to win while accumulating as many as 23 outs have reverberated for days in terms of pitcher availability and effectiveness. That notion was evident when the Red Sox had to navigate the final two innings of a win against the Twins on Monday night when Matt Barnes and Brandon Workman were unavailable.
“That fifth spot has been tough for us,” said manager Alex Cora. “I think the only [depth start] that went six [innings] was Weber in Toronto, but besides that it’s three innings, four innings, 2⅓ , 1⅓ . It’s not easy.”
Against that backdrop, a case can be made that Eovaldi could not only upgrade the rotation by contributing as a fifth starter but, if he’s healthy enough to deliver five, six, or seven innings on a relatively consistent basis, his impact on the entire staff could be considerable.
Or, at the least, that appears to be the team’s thinking as it charts a rehab course for a pitcher who was one of the most dominant starters in the game last September and October.
Over the course of the season-high six-game winning streak that the Red Sox carried into Tuesday, Cora said he sensed an altered outlook among his team, and a return to the expectation of wins rather than the uncertainty of the early months of the season.
“The vibe is different,” said Cora. “There’s no more searching. You feel it. You come to the ballpark every day now and it feels like last year.
“We’re finding ways to beat teams. It got to the point there, we were searching for mechanics and swings and whatever. Now, it’s different. Now it’s just a matter of putting everything together.”
Colten Brewer’s effectiveness in June — he had thrown nine innings without allowing an earned run or extra-base hit while striking out eight (albeit with eight walks) — coincides with a change in his pitch mix. The righthander has significantly increased the usage of his curveball (51.7 percent, up from 40.4 percent through the end of May) and slider (15.9 percent, up from 4.4 percent), while more sparing usage has made his cutting fastball more pitch.
“[The breaking balls] open up the ability to throw fastballs in the zone,” said Brewer. “Nowadays everyone is throwing 95. My hardest pitch is only 95, 96. I don’t really have 100 miles per hour to beat guys in the zone with it. I’ve got to kind of pitch around it. You can’t just reach back, throw as hard as you can, and expect to blow up guys. You’ve got to have that breaker and throw it down.”
Setback for Lin
Tzu-Wei Lin, out since May 4 because of a left knee sprain, had been playing well (.313/.389/.500 in five games) while on a rehab assignment with Triple A Pawtucket. However, that assignment was put on hold Tuesday (retroactive to Monday) because of a right shoulder impingement. Lin must now sit for at least five days before he can resume a rehab assignment . . . Steve Pearce (lower back) had been scheduled to play the first of three straight rehab games with the PawSox on Tuesday, but the game was rained out . . . Mitch Moreland (quadriceps) has yet to resume baseball activities.
Moving on up
Lefthander Logan Allen, an eighth-round selection by the Red Sox out of the IMG Academy in 2015, won his big league debut Tuesday night for the Padres. Allen, who pitched seven scoreless innings of three-hit ball, was dealt to San Diego as part of the deal for Craig Kimbrel after the 2015 season. Righthander Stephen Nogosek, a 2016 sixth-rounder who was traded to the Mets for Addison Reed in 2017, was also called up Tuesday after forging a 0.57 ERA in 31⅔ innings in the upper levels of the Mets system this year. Those two became the fourth and fifth Red Sox pitchers drafted in 2015 or 2016 to get their first big league call-ups this year, joining Travis Lakins (2015, sixth round), Shaun Anderson (2016, third round, now with the Giants), and Mike Shawaryn (2016, fifth round) . . . The Twins placed center fielder Byron Buxton (wrist contusion) and infielder Ehire Adrianza (abdominal issues) on the injured list, calling up outfielder Jake Cave and infielder Luis Arraez from Triple A to take their places