May 7, 2013 at 3:49 PM
With Joel Hanrahan leaving Monday night’s game with soreness in his right arm hours after Andrew Bailey was placed on the 15-day disabled list, the Red Sox bullpen is in a state of flux. While there is a great deal of talent still remaining in the ‘pen, starting with right-handers Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara, the relief corps has shouldered a considerable load recently, tossing 15 innings over the past four games. Andrew Miller has pitched in three consecutive games, Clayton Mortensen in three of the last four, and Uehara pitched both Saturday and Sunday and was warming up to pitch last night when the Sox walked off in the bottom of the 11th. Whether or not Hanrahan is placed on the disabled list, the Boston bullpen is in need of reinforcements, at least temporarily.
Here is a look at some of the most likely potential replacements:
Optioned to Pawtucket on April 25, Aceves appears to be the obvious candidate for an immediate recall. He is the scheduled starter for Pawtucket’s game tonight in Gwinnett against the Braves, and as of this afternoon was still listed as such on the lineup card. Stretched out as a starter, Aceves would seem to be the perfect candidate to piggyback Ryan Dempster tonight and eat some innings if necessary. However, Aceves’ recent tenure with the major league club has been tumultuous. If the Red Sox decide to go in a different direction, it would seem that Aceves would be an option to be designated for assignment to clear a 40-man roster slot. After all, if this isn’t a situation where the Red Sox would turn to him, is there any?
You may remember Rowland-Smith (pictured) from his time in Seattle. As a member of the Mariners, the Australian left-hander made 115 appearances between 2007 and 2010, split between the rotation and bullpen, where he compiled a 4.57 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. Signed to a minor league contract in spring training while pitching for the Australian World Baseball Classic squad, Rowland-Smith has been excellent in the PawSox bullpen. He has allowed just one run on seven hits in 17 1/3 innings, good for a microscopic 0.52 ERA. While Rowland-Smith does not have the classic power fastball that teams tend to look for in a bullpen arm, he does have the durability that the Red Sox need right now – the converted starter has recorded four or more outs in six of his nine appearances. Out of options, Rowland-Smith would have to clear waivers to be returned to the minor leagues. However, given the Red Sox 40-man roster crunch, this may actually work in his favor, as he may stand a better chance of going unclaimed than one of the choices who have options remaining.
A 27-year-old without major league experience who was acquired last summer from Cleveland for Brent Lillibridge, De La Torre is a better pitcher than that profile would suggest. He shined as a member of the Puerto Rican team in the World Baseball Classic, striking out 12 in 5 2/3 innings across six appearances during the tournament. The 5-foot-10 right-hander has continued to miss bats during the regular season, with 16 in 16 1/3 Triple-A innings. De La Torre also keeps the ball on the ground, with a groundout-to-flyout rate over 2.5 on the season, and only 16 home runs allowed in 356 career minor league innings. The drawback for De La Torre continues to be his control. He has walked 10 batters already this season, and nearly four per nine innings in 79 career Triple-A appearances. De La Torre has all three options remaining.
Less likely options:
The former Met was acquired in August 2012 for catcher Kelly Shoppach. A first-round pick by the Baltimore Orioles in 2006, Beato stalled as a starter, but the Mets were impressed enough by his work as a reliever at Double-A Bowie in 2010 to make him their pick in the Rule 5 draft that winter. After a solid 2011 season, when the right-hander compiled a 4.30 ERA in 60 appearances, he struggled out of the gate in 2012 and was optioned to Triple-A before being dealt to the Red Sox. Beato made four appearances out of the Boston bullpen after the trade, allowing four runs in 7 2/3 innings. While Beato has plus velocity, consistently sitting at 93 mph with his fastball, it has a tendency to straighten out and his slider grades as below-average. In nine games this season, Beato has a 2.25 ERA in 16 innings, striking out 15 while walking seven. He has two options remaining.
A popular choice on the SoxProspects.com forums, Martin (pictured) is off to a stellar start to 2013, with 19 1/3 shutout innings, striking out 25 and walking only five. Unlike some older pitcher who put up gaudy statistics in Double-A due to advanced pitchability, the 27-year-old Martin’s scouting reports reinforce the performance. SoxProspects.com Northeast scout Ian Cundall was highly impressed in his first-hand look in Portland last month, commenting that Martin "got his fastball up to 95 mph in the outing, sitting 93-94 for the majority of the time. He commanded the pitch well, showing the ability to throw quality strikes on both sides of the plate. When he got on top of the ball, he buried it down in the zone with late arm-side run.” Martin’s history of success is short, however, with a 5.27 ERA in 82 Double-A innings entering this year. While his success has been intriguing, the Red Sox are likely to want to get him some time at Triple-A before committing a 40-man roster spot.
Like Martin, Ruiz is on the older side for the Double-A level, but has a promising scouting profile. Cundall reports that Ruiz, 25, was topping out last week at 94 mph with his fastball, and showing excellent movement with the pitch. He complements that with two plus breaking pitches, a harder slider that he throws around 82, and a mid-70s curve with good break. Ruiz has not shown Martin’s dominance at the Double-A level, with a 4.85 ERA in 13 innings, but he has struck out 24 of the 58 batters he has faced at the level. He is coming off of a strong 2012 at High A Salem, where Ruiz had a 3.14 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 48 2/3 innings. Ruiz is an even longer shot for immediate call up than Martin, but the 2008 10th rounder is setting himself up for a promotion to Triple-A.
While there seems to be some popular demand to turn to one of the key pieces in last August’s blockbuster deal with the Dodgers, De La Rosa will not be getting the call today. The first reason is simple – he pitched yesterday, and he pitched quite well, throwing four shutout innings in the PawSox win. He wouldn’t be available tonight, and the Red Sox need reinforcements more immediately. While De La Rosa may ultimately find himself in the bullpen, the Red Sox seem to be committed to stretching him out as a starter as he continues to rehab from his 2011 Tommy John surgery. They began him on a 50-pitch limit to start the season, and ramped that up to a limit of 70 for his last start. To change course now would run in the face of everything the organization has done with De La Rosa since acquiring him, and would have the potential to reverse the gains that were evident when Cundall saw him last Tuesday.
A move involving Webster would not be to put him in the bullpen. Rather, it would have him taking the spot of Felix Doubront in the rotation, with Doubront moving to a relief role. This is intriguing for a number of reasons. First, Webster has been excellent for Pawtucket in four starts, and impressed in his major league debut two weekends ago. Additionally, the lack of efficiency that has plagued Doubront as a starter would be less relevant in a shorter role, while streamlining his repertoire may help improve his already stellar strikeout rate. However, the time seems wrong for such a move, particularly if it is only going to fill a short-term need. Webster, while tremendously intriguing and obviously talented, still has made only five starts above Double-A. There is obvious downside to rushing his development at this point. Also, while Doubront's occasional inconsistency has been frustrating, it is part of the development curve for a 25-year-old, and his positives of a high strikeout rate and top notch stuff make it short-sighted to change course. Furthermore, such a move would cut into the Red Sox already-precarious starting pitcher depth. The team was burned last season by moving Franklin Morales back and forth between the rotation and bullpen, and are unlikely to repeat the mistake with Doubront. If, come midsummer, the Red Sox haven't developed a long-term hold to fill in the bullpen, if Doubront is still struggling to find consistency, and Webster is ready to graduate Triple-A, this could be an option. The timing is wrong for such a move right now.
Photo Credit: Ryan Rowland-Smith and Chris Martin by Kelly O'Connor