Vicente Padilla has been a bright spot for the Sox bullpen, which has been MLB's best since late April.
To be kind, the Red Sox bullpen has been a bit of an enigma this year. Are they more like their ERA in April (6.10) or May (2.08)? Are they the guys who gave up 11 home runs in 62 April innings, or the ones who have given up six in 82.1 May innings?
While it’s unlikely the Sox relief corps will be as bad as it was in April or as good as it has been in May, this rag-tag group is finally starting to settle in for the long haul. After all the shuffling manager Bobby Valentine was forced to do at the beginning of the season, he appears to have started to find roles for each of his pitchers.
Because the natural order has begun to play itself out, we can finally take a (somewhat) educated look at how each reliever has performed and start to formulate opinions on who the key members of the bullpen are.
With the roles more defined, some relievers have begun to excel despite the fact that their numbers do not indicate such success. Likewise, some relievers’ numbers belie the real way in which they’ve performed in key situations.
Although it’s still early in the season, for the Sox to climb back into the division race they’ll need their bullpen to continue performing at the high level they’ve currently reached. The starters have been erratic all season, and in averaging just over 5.2 innings per start they have already put a lot of strain on their fellow pitchers’ arms.
Some of the Sox’s relievers have risen to this challenge and provided much-needed stability, while others have completely faltered. Let’s rank the performances of the each Sox reliever thus far this season:
Both pitchers will receive an “incomplete” ranking because each is no longer with the organization. Bowden was shipped to the Cubs on April 21 in exchange for Marlon Byrd, and Thomas was claimed off of waivers by the Yankees on May 12.
Bowden actually performed reasonably well for the Sox, allowing only a solo home run in three innings of work. However, he was deemed expendable enough that the Sox had no interest in keeping him on despite the bullpen’s early struggles.
Thomas did not fare quite as well, posting a 7.71 ERA in seven appearances. Although he was relegated mostly to mop-up duty, he never quite had the look of a big league reliever. The Sox ultimately agreed, ultimately waiving the left-hander on May 10.
Once thought to be a potential solution at closer when Andrew Bailey went down, Melancon instead put on one of the worst performances a Sox reliever has had in recent memory. In four appearances lasting just two innings total, the former Astros closer surrendered an astonishing five home runs and 11 earned runs.
The Sox determined that, even though their bullpen was faltering, they could not keep a man with a 49.50 ERA on the big league roster. Melancon was subsequently demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket.
Though his results for the PawSox have been promising (0.60 ERA in 15 innings with an 11.50 K/BB ratio), don’t expect to see him back with the Sox anytime soon.
After returning from Tommy John surgery briefly at the end of last season, Tazawa was excellent in his five appearances for the Sox this year. He did not allow a run in 6.1 innings of work, surrendering just five hits and no walks.
Despite these good results, Tazawa was demoted on May 1 to make room on the big league roster for Jose Iglesias. At the time, the Sox needed infield depth due to the injury to Kevin Youkilis, and Tazawa had plenty of minor league options remaining on his contract.
Tazawa has continued his strong performance in Pawtucket (0.95 ERA in 19 innings), and the Sox will likely recall the right-hander if one of their current relievers goes down with an injury.
A player initially ridiculed by Sox fans after being acquired in exchange for incumbent shortstop Marco Scutaro, Mortensen silenced the critics with a strong performance for the Sox in early May. In three appearances stretching 9.1 innings, he allowed just one earned run, struck out 12 hitters and did not allow a walk.
He was sent back to Pawtucket on May 10 so the Sox could recall Daniel Nava after the injury to Darnell McDonald. The demotion was more bad luck than anything else for Mortensen; he happened to be the only reliever on the roster at the time with a minor league option.
Like Tazawa, with his strong performance in Triple-A (0.60 ERA in 15.0 innings) Mortensen has likely earned a return to Boston in the near future.
After missing the first month of the season due to injury, Miller has solidified his role on the Sox as a go-to pitcher out of the bullpen. Until the game yesterday, Miller had not allowed a run all season as the Sox’s primary “bridge” reliever.
Interestingly, the control problems that have plagued Miller throughout his career are nowhere to be found this year. In 8.2 innings pitched he has walked just two batters while striking out 11.
As long as he continues to throw strikes, Miller will be a key part of the Sox’s pen. His versatility also makes him a huge asset, as his past as a starter means he can work multiple innings if necessary.
Morales’ numbers don’t look all that impressive (4.40 ERA, 1.67 WHIP in 14.1 innings), but if we remove one disastrous outing in April against Texas the stats become much more palatable (2.57 ERA, 1.36 WHIP).
Bobby Valentine certainly feels comfortable calling on Morales late in games, as the left-hander has worked in the seventh inning or later in each of his 17 appearances.
The hard-throwing Morales has performed well since coming over from Colorado last season, filling the late-inning lefty role that all MLB teams covet. While he was a bit erratic in the early going this season, in six appearances since taking the loss against the Orioles on May 4 he has logged a 1.69 ERA.
The pear-shaped Albers has been a workhorse for the Sox bullpen, tossing 20 innings this season (with almost half of those appearances lasting over an inning). Like many of the Sox relievers, he struggled early on, but since April 21 the right-hander has a 2.19 ERA over 12.1 innings of work.
Albers has proven to have a lot of value to the Sox because of his ability to perform in any situation. Of his 17 total appearances, he has entered games in the sixth (four), seventh (five), eighth (six) and ninth (two) innings with similar frequency.
The flexibility Albers gives the Sox is a huge luxury, as he can fill in for any of his fellow relievers when they need a day off.
Hill’s amazing return from Tommy John surgery has been a huge boon for the Sox bullpen. The Milton, MA native has already worked 12 times since being activated on April 29, and he has been very effective from the beginning.
With a 1.93 ERA and 1.07 WHIP, Hill has demonstrated that he is ready to pick up right where he left off with the Sox when he was injured early in 2011.
Bobby Valentine has begun to rely upon the left-hander a bit more recently, and Hill has responded; he has recorded a hold in each of his last four appearances, all Sox wins.
A non-roster invitee to spring training, Atchison has been the most consistent reliever for the Sox all season. The salt-and-pepper grey middle reliever has been excellent, sporting a tidy 1.13 ERA and 0.87 WHIP.
After allowing a run in his first appearance of the season against Detroit, the right-hander has not seen his ERA climb above 2.31 all season. He has played a key role in the bullpen’s May turnaround as well, having not allowed a run in 11.2 innings of work this month.
Another one of the Sox’s many versatile relievers, Atchison has done it all this year. He has pitched as many as four innings in relief, saving the rest of his teammates from over-burdening their arms early in the season.
Padilla—originally slated as a candidate for the starting rotation—has been an incredible find for the Sox’s bullpen this year. His 5.59 ERA seems pretty bad; however, it does not even begin to tell the story of what he has meant to this team.
Padilla has inherited 15 runners in his 18 appearances this season, and not one of them has scored. The right-hander’s ability to leave runners on base has played in a huge role in his 10 holds, which tie him for fourth in MLB.
Padilla has been incredibly durable, too. He has pitched with either one or zero days of rest nine times, including seven this month. His late-game prowess has made him the primary setup man, a role he richly deserves.
The Sox’s most valuable reliever last year, Aceves has overcome his rocky start to the 2012 campaign to once again assume the title of king of the Sox bullpen. “The Ace” struggled after being thrust into the closer’s role, blowing his two of his first four save opportunities of the season.
Since his poor start, though, Aceves has been lights out. He has converted nine straight saves, and his total of 11 is tied for seventh best in MLB.
After blowing a save and surrendering five earned runs against the Yankees on April 21, Aceves has been nothing short of brilliant. In 18.2 innings of work, he has posted a 0.96 ERA, 19 strikeouts and a 0.96 WHIP.
Like Padilla, Aceves’ durability is one of his greatest skills. He has had one day or less of rest in 13 of his 21 appearances and has converted five saves after pitching the previous day.