One of the biggest question marks looming over a Boston Red Sox team brimming with stars is the state of the bullpen.
On Monday, we got our first taste of a few arms. Neither Matt Barnes nor Craig Kimbrel, for that matter, were overly impressive.
With the Red Sox ahead 5-1 and runners on first and third with one out, Barnes can into relieve Rick Porcello in the seventh. By the time he exited, which was two hits and a wild pitch later, it was 5-3 heading into the bottom half of the frame. The right-hander, who pitched to the tune of a 4.05 ERA in 62 games last season, just didn’t look comfortable coming into a high-volume situation.
The eighth inning, which featured one out from southpaw Robby Scott to open the frame before Heath Hembree grabbed the final two, was the most efficient from John Farrell’s bullpen.
Craig Kimbrel didn’t look all that promising in the ninth – surrendering a leadoff double and hit batter – but he was able to work his way out of the jam.
It has to make you wonder, is the bullpen going to be a concern? Regardless, the late-inning role wouldn’t have been something Red Sox fans have to hold their breath over had the club retained Brad Ziegler.
Ziegler, who the Red Sox acquired last July from the Arizona Diamondbacks, hurled 29.2 innings, closed out four games and posted a 1.52 ERA for the Red Sox. He was signed to a two-year, $16 million deal by the Miami Marlins.
It was a true head-scratching move by the Red Sox to let one of the top-five most consistent relief pitchers over the past 10 seasons who has closing experience just walk like that. Especially, when you consider Kimbrel’s struggles last year and the departures of seasoned veterans Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa, granted they’re both past their primes.
It did become quite apparent Ziegler was not going to be back in Boston when the Red Sox pulled the trigger to snatch 28-year-old reliever Tyler Thornburg from the Milwaukee Brewers for Travis Shaw in early December. It is worth noting, Thornburg, who is already hurt, has no prior experience pitching in the American League and zero closing experience, besides in 2016 when he blew eight saves.
I’m not saying Thornburg is a bad pitcher, it’s just a risky move because the club doesn’t want to pay the price for Ziegler. If Kimbrel needs a night off or hits the disabled list, who is going to step up? That’s the million-dollar question.