The Red Sox are utilizing every available arm on their expanded roster in September in an attempt to salvage their season.
Prior to the Red Sox’ 6-2 win against the Minnesota Twins Wednesday, the team recalled lefthanded pitcher Bobby Poyner and righthanded pitchers Colten Brewer, Trevor Kelley, and Mike Shawaryn from Triple A Pawtucket. That puts the Sox’ roster at 36, with 21 pitchers.
“We’re going winter-ball style,” said manager Alex Cora. “The games, instead of four hours, are going to be five hours.”
The four pitchers weren’t supposed to be a part of the September call-up to the big leagues, but circumstances warranted their inclusion in the Sox’ roster expansion after Rick Porcello lasted just four innings, allowing six runs, in Tuesday night’s 6-5 loss to the Twins.
“Our starters are not giving us enough,” Cora said. “We need matchups. We need arms. We’re going to try to maximize Brewer’s cutter, Shawaryn’s slider and Bobby’s fastball up. We’re trying to look for outs.”
Essentially, the Red Sox will use a myriad of arms to mask the deficit in starting pitching.
Cora indicated Tuesday the team would use more of a bullpen method in September, but adding more depth to the staff — specifically four pitchers who weren’t initially a part of the fold — indicated the lengths to which the team was willing to go in making the aggressive move.
Cora said he received a call from president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski Wednesday morning, asking for his input.
“He was kind of like, ‘What do you think?’ said Cora, recalling his conversation with Dombrowski. “And I was like, ‘You know where I’m at.’ Lucky I work for an organization that we’re not going to tap-out. We’re not going to wave the white flag.”
Injuries have played a role in the Sox’ struggles this season, but so has flat-out underperformance, particularly when it matters most with runners in scoring position.
Entering Wednesday night’s game, the Sox starters had a 16.02 ERA with runners in scoring position, second-worst in baseball. Starters allowed a .302 opponents batting average — again, second-worst in the league — with a .533 slugging percentage. That’s the worst in baseball.
That has had its trickle-down effect, of course, on the bullpen. Excluding last Saturday’s bullpen game against the Los Angeles Angels, the last three Sox starters have accounted for just 10 innings, entering Wednesday.
Dating back to the start of the Angels series through Tuesday evening’s contest against the Twins, Sox relievers accumulated 30 innings. Matt Barnes worked three straight days against the Angels and was warming up in Tuesday’s game. It would have been his fourth appearance in five games.
A hopeful run at a wild-card spot is one component of the Sox’ decision to employ even more arms. Yet, there’s another element to it, too.
“It’s a lot easier,” Cora said. “You don’t have to push certain guys all the time. There’s a few guys here that have shown they are big leaguers and are a big part of our future. Although we’re staying in the present and trying to win today, at the same time you have to take care of them.”
When asked if Porcello will remain a part of the rotation, Cora said, “As of now, yeah.”
Andrew Cashner is part of the reason the Sox’ rotation hasn’t been good. But he looks as if he’s found something in the bullpen since being taken out the rotation in mid-August. As of Wednesday, he held a 0.82 ERA in 11 innings pitched in relief. Opponents were hitting just .114 against him. Most notably, in last Friday’s 15-inning game vs. the Angels, Cashner turned in four scoreless innings, helping the bullpen hold a 3.38 ERA since Aug. 1 (second-best in the majors in that span).
“I think one of the biggest things is communication,” Cashner said of his bullpen success. “I think a lot of that is just being honest on how you feel. It’s one of those things they could stay around you on days you don’t feel good. When you do feel good, you’re ready for it. It’s been fun being down there. I think we’ve become a really close group.”
Despite the success of the bullpen and more teams employing a bullpen method, Cashner said he doesn’t see baseball’s latest trend as something that’s sustainable.
“I think teams are now seeing how important it is to have starters,” Cashner said. You look at the Rays and I think what they’ve done is really outstanding in this game. But I don’t think it’s sustainable over years. Especially once those guys get more expensive ands start to log innings.”
Rooting for Rocco
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, a native of Woonsocket, R.I., had a group of about 40 friends and family at the game, a trip organized by his father, Dan.
“It’s really nice. Not coming here very often any more is a little different,” said Baldelli, who played for the Rays and Red Sox before joining the Rays as an instructor and coach. “It’s always nice to feel the support from the people that have been there, basically, your entire life supporting you.”
Boston College senior outfielder Dante Baldelli, Rocco’s brother, was among those at the game.
Michael Chavis was back in the Red Sox clubhouse and took some swings, Cora said. The team hopes to get him back in the mix this weekend for their series against the New York Yankees . . . Mitch Moreland will join Red Sox staffers at the Greater Boston Food Bank on Thursday to sort donated items as part of MLB’s “Home Plate Project” for childhood hunger prevention . . . The Yankees flew into Boston after their game on Wednesday night and will have a day off in the city as the Sox play the Twins on Thursday night. The Yankees and Sox start a four-game series on Friday night. Domingo German, J.A. Happ, Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton are scheduled to pitch for the Yankees. The Red Sox have not yet announced their rotation.