2016 Boston Red Sox Bullpen Storylines To Follow

The 2015 season was a failure for the Boston Red Sox. However, some young stars emerged and this past offseason was a success. Rick Rowand is here to bring us the 2016 Boston Red Sox bullpen storylines to follow in a season that is sure to be better than the last.

We have previously discussed storylines involving the position players and the starting pitchers for the Boston Red Sox. In this article, we’ll bring you the storylines of the bullpen, including the swingmen, which are the pitchers that can work either as a starter or a reliever.

With the offseason acquisitions of Craig Kimbrel, Carson Smith and Roenis Elias, Dave Dombrowski firmed up roles and added much-needed depth to the bullpen.  

As always, injuries play a large role in putting together a pitching staff. This year is no exception, with the knee injury to starter Eduardo Rodriguez and the forearm injury to Carson Smith messing with the best-laid plans of the Sox. Smith has a strained right flexor and will start the season on the DL, which opens up a slot in the pen to start the season. According to Orthopedic Surgeon and Chief of Sports Medicine at Tufts Dr. Chris Geary – Smith is looking at anywhere from four to six weeks on the DL, depending on how he responds to treatment. It could be as many as 12 weeks if there are any setbacks.

The Red Sox, like many teams, typically employ a 12-man pitching staff through the regular season, with seven of those in the ‘pen. Five slots were set with Kimbrel as the closer, followed by Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Steven Wright (out of options and valuable as a long man and spot starter) and Carson Smith, prior to his injury. But things have changed a bit with Smith out for a while.

First and foremost, who will be the fifth starter? Based on comments by manager John Farrell and the performances of Wright, Henry Owens and Elias, it looks like the choice is between Wright and Elias as Owens has walked himself out of contention and will start the season in Pawtucket.

Both knuckleballer Wright and Elias have experience pitching out of the bullpen and starting, with Elias primarily starting (49 of 51 MLB appearances) and Wright mostly relieving (15 of 26). Wright is guaranteed a spot on the Opening Day roster because he’s out of options, and because of his obvious value to the team in his dual roles. Their next few starts will be the determining factor in who gets the starting assignment. Barring any setbacks, Rodriguez should only miss a couple of starts. The way the Red Sox schedule is arranged, the team won’t need a fifth starter until the second week of the season when they host Baltimore.

If Wright earns the role, there will be four slots in the ‘pen to fill by Opening Day. Elias will likely be in Pawtucket to continue working as a starter. If Elias earns the starting spot (being a lefty should be in his favor here as Rodriguez is also a lefty), then the Sox will have three slots to fill in the ‘pen. There are numerous candidates vying for the roles. Matt Barnes, Elias, Heath Hembree, Brian Johnson, Tommy Layne, Noe Ramirez, Robbie Ross Jr, and Brandon Workman. Remember – with Kimbrel, Uehara and Tazawa for innings 7-9, we’re talking mainly low leverage innings for the rest of the ‘pen.

Spring stats don’t really mean much with pitchers trying out new pitches or concentrating on just one pitch in an appearance. This makes it a bit challenging to gauge just how well or poorly a pitcher is performing from afar. Still, spring stats and the record of past performance is all we have to go on.  

Based on his performance out of the pen to end the 2015 season, and how he’s pitched this spring, Barnes should be penciled in on the Opening Day roster. That leaves them with two or three more slots to fill.

Workman is coming off Tommy John surgery and didn’t pitch in 2015. When he’s pitched this spring, he hasn’t fared well. We’ll see him in Pawtucket.

At this point in his career, Brian Johnson needs to figure out how to pitch effectively. Boston is not the place to do it.

The contenders for the remaining slots are Tommy Layne, Noe Ramirez, Heath Hembree, and Robbie Ross Jr. Two lefties and two righties, none of whom has done much to separate himself from the rest of the pack. It should be an interesting two weeks in Fort Myers.

Rick Rowand has written about Boston’s young stars, David Ortiz’s career, Brock Holt’s aura, and an interview with the producer of Scouting for Diamonds.

Follow Rick on Twitter @rrowand.

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