Things haven’t exactly gone the way the Red Sox planned after letting Craig Kimbrel walk and rolling into the year without a designated closer. Their bullpen regressed from last year, and neither Matt Barnes nor Ryan Brasier proved up to the task of tackling the final three outs. While there are a myriad of other issues that have contributed to Boston’s disappointing season as defending champs, their bullpen has been the most scrutinized.
One potential solution that’s been floated by manager Alex Cora is sending Nathan Eovaldi to the bullpen. After signing a four-year $68 million deal over the offseason, Eovaldi has struggled with injuries all season, and was reinstated from the 60-day IL on Saturday after missing the previous three months with an elbow injury. Eovaldi proved he could succeed coming out of the bullpen during the playoffs last season, most memorably when he pitched seven innings in the 18-inning marathon Game 3 of last year’s World Series. But can he solve this year’s bullpen iteration?
One player can’t solve their issues alone. Like most of the team, Boston’s only chance to make a run at defending their World Series title will come from internal improvement. The starters as a group have had an inconsistent season, and the bullpen can’t be relied upon for four-five full innings every single night. But if Cora slots Eovaldi into the closer spot (unofficially, since they seem pretty set on tackling the concept of a designated closer), then it could have a domino effect. Barnes was at his best last year as an eighth-inning setup man. Perhaps Brandon Workman and Marcus Walden perform better if they’re asked to pitch early in games.
Again, the bullpen has become the scapegoat for a down year. They’re being relied upon far more than last year, and the current crop of talent can only do so much. But Eovaldi’s presence just might be what they need to become more consistent. Even if he doesn’t end up closing many games, the coaching staff believe they can rely on him to get critical outs where the rest of the relievers have failed to do so. There’s a good argument to be made that Eovaldi would be more valuable in the rotation, but for now, he’ll be in the bullpen. We’ll see if it pays dividends.