Red Sox Report: Koji Uehara, New Red Sox Closer
Going into spring training the Red Sox thought they had two capable closers in the back end of the bullpen, which could potentially be one of the greatest strengths to this year’s team. Newly proclaimed closer Joel Hanrahan tore his elbow within his first month with the team and may never pitch another game in a Red Sox uniform, after being acquired from the Pirates this past offseason. Andrew Bailey, acquired last offseason was set to be a setup man and was doing well for the first two weeks before Hanrahan got hurt then he became the closer. Bailey then had a sore lat muscle and spent time on the disabled where Junichi Tazawa filled in as closer, although never got a save opportunity.
When Bailey came off the disabled list he was back in the closer role and did not get many save opportunities and when he did get opportunities, he did not perform well. This past weekend John Farrell removed Bailey from the closer role after giving up home runs in four out of six appearances. Koji Uehara was the choice to take over the closer role and Wednesday against the Rockies he got his second save this season and first after being proclaimed the closer. Last night he also got the save against Toronto. So far 6 batters, 6 outs. Uehara has missed time over his career due to durability issues and is most successful not pitching in back to back days but, he has been lights out this season. His one year deal signed with the Sox this offseason really flew under the radar. He really does energize the team with his emotions and the high five parade. Whether he can be good in the closer role for the remainder of the season remains to be seen as we move into July things can change pretty quickly.
The All Star break is in two weeks and usually teams know where they are going for the remainder of the season. This year the Red Sox are obviously buyers. Could a closer be on the radar? Jonathan Papelbon reunion perhaps? Personally I would not like a reunion with Papelbon. It would take too much to get him from Philadelphia, an obvious seller, who might also move Cliff Lee and his large contract. The Red Sox did not want to pay him last offseason why would they want to pay Papelbon now? A trade just does not make sense to me. Papelbon is having great success in the National League, which is more of a league for the pitcher with maybe seven good bats in the lineup if they are lucky.
With Bailey removed from the closer role where does he fit in now? Right now he is middle relief and seems to be behind Tazawa when it comes to a key spot in a big game. Tazwa was used in the 8th inning during Wednesdays 5-3 win over Colorado.
Remember when the Red Sox had three lefties in the pen? It was a short stint as Franklin Morales is hurt again and I feel cannot be counted on this season. Andrew Miller has stepped up in recent months, but hitting a batter with the bases loaded on a 0-2 count like he did on Sunday is inexcusable. Craig Breslow has looked good after starting the year on the disabled list.
As it appears now the bullpen has Clayton Mortensen and Alex Wilson in long relief and low leverage situations. The remainder of Miller, Bailey, Breslow, and Tazawa will be mixed and matched depending on the situations. I feel like they could add another bullpen arm with experience to handle more pressure situations as right now we cannot be sure about Andrew Bailey. Alex Wilson has options and can be sent down. Clayton Mortensen I feel is replaceable but has done the job of mopping up when a starter has underperformed and lately that has been happening a lot with Jon Lester and the inconsistent Felix Doubront. Lester did have a nice outing last night against the Blue Jays and got his first win since May 15th. It looks like Allen Webster will be up with the big club until Clay Buchholz returns, which is looking like after the All Star break.
A great offense can bail out a mediocre starting rotation if they can win the slugfests. Right now the offense is clicking. The problem right now is manager John Farrell needs to figure out the best spot for all the relievers on the fly as they team has changed closers as many times as Lincoln Chafee has changed political parties. John Farrell has pushed his starters to go deeper into games and work out of jams but with the bullpen you cannot have much patience with a one run lead. I surely hope Uehara can handle the closer role and give high fives down the line after every Sox win for the rest of the season.