Help, the Red Sox hope, is on the way. And it’s needed.
Pitching coach Dana LeVangie has acknowledged that the team’s relief corps has had “too much” red on the bullpen card of late — meaning pitchers whom the team is trying to avoid due to excessive workloads. The pitchers themselves have felt the strain of their labors without requiring a color-coded chart.
“You just base it on how much you’ve been throwing and how you feel,” said Matt Barnes, before Monday night’s thrilling 6-5 victory over the White Sox at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox’ primary late-innings options are running on fumes. And so, an addition to the group — particularly one capable of logging multiple innings and thus, perhaps, giving his teammates more nights off — is welcome.
For that reason, the anticipated return of knuckleballer Steven Wright on Tuesday from his 80-game suspension for a positive PED test is being welcomed by the team as a potentially significant development. Wright has a 2.99 ERA in 78⅓ career innings out of the bullpen, holding hitters to a .238 average and .683 OPS. Last year, Wright had a 1.52 ERA in 16 relief appearances (29⅔ innings) and looked like a potential October weapon before an injury hours before the start of the Division Series.
This year, Wright will not be eligible for the playoffs due to his suspension. Even so, the Sox think that — as a versatile reliever capable of multi-inning outings, and to retire both righties and lefties — can make an impact.
In five outings spanning 9⅔ innings with Triple A Pawtucket, Wright allowed two runs while striking out four and walking three.
“He’s been good,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “[With reliable multi-innings relievers] you feel comfortable that you don’t have to go to certain guys all the time, all the time, all the time, regardless of whether they’re the guys in the high-leverage situations or the other guys, to keep the game close. I think having these guys is going to benefit us. It will. It’s going to make us better.”
While Wright could contribute as a single- or multi-innings reliever, the Red Sox are likewise eager for the return of Heath Hembree, who’d been emerging as one of their preferred high-leverage options before landing on the injured list last week with a right elbow extensor strain. In 17 games since the start of May, Hembree had a 0.60 ERA with 22 strikeouts and 12 baserunners allowed in 15 innings.
Hembree was slated to make a rehab appearance with Triple-A Pawtucket on Monday, but he felt less than stellar after a weekend bullpen session and the team opted to give him at least one day of additional rest. Still, the Sox expect the righthander back soon, a development that will add to their late-innings options.
“He’s very important to what we do. You saw it. He can get lefties and righties out. He can come in with traffic and get people out, or he can actually close games. It really doesn’t matter,” said Cora. “He’s a big part of what we do and we miss him.”
On June 1, Cora recommitted to Mookie Betts in the leadoff spot and Andrew Benintendi in the second. The move has not offered the intended yield to date.
The Red Sox entered Monday’s game against the White Sox averaging 5.4 runs per game in June, barely up from a 5.3 runs per game average to that point. Perhaps more notably, the Sox haven’t been jumpstarted in the first inning, hitting .205/.283/.349 in the game’s opening inning while scoring (including a scoreless first frame on Monday) just eight first-inning runs in 23 June contests.
“We haven’t dominated the first inning,” said Cora. “That’s something we’ve talked about. We haven’t been able to get the lead right away. You can talk about the ninth inning, the eighth inning, but if you look back at our numbers in the first inning, we’re not even close to what we did last year, and we expect them to do that. . . . It just hasn’t happened.”
The Sox are averaging 0.41 runs this year in the first inning, 27th in the big leagues.
Brock Holt, who left Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury, is day-to-day. The Sox planned to let him rest on Monday, but hoped that the versatile Holt would be available at some point this week . . . Mitch Moreland, out since June 8 with a right quad strain, is hitting and fielding grounders but does not yet have a timetable for playing in rehab games . . . The Red Sox hosted a pair of high school pitchers whom they took on Day 3 of the draft, 13th-rounder Blake Loubier out of Oviedo (Fla.) High School and 15th-rounder Aaron Roberts out of Desert Oasis (Nev.) High School. It’s the equivalent of a recruiting visit to gauge the interest of the players in turning pro and to introduce them to Red Sox officials . . . Righthander Sebastian Keane, the 11th-round pick out of North Andover, is scheduled to visit Fenway on Tuesday. The Red Sox had been waiting until the conclusion of Keane’s season before engaging in negotiations to see if they can convince him to forgo his baseball commitment to Northeastern . . . Four members of the Portland Sea Dogs were named Eastern League All-Stars. Righthander Tanner Houck (7-4, 4.02 ERA), lefthander Dedgar Jimenez (2-3, 4.00 in 11 starts), third baseman Bobby Dalbec (.233/.372/.466, 14 HR), and catcher Jhon Nunez (.303/.343/.470, 4 HR) were named to the contest . . . Depth should not be a problem for the London Series this weekend. Because of the trans-Atlantic travel, the Red Sox and Yankees will be allowed to have a 26th player on the active roster provided it is a position player. The teams can also bring two additional players from their 40-man roster in the event of roster moves during the series — though the 26th player on the roster cannot be replaced. The two extra players can be any combination of pitchers or position players.