BOSTON — Boston’s leaky bullpen is set to get a life raft tonight (Tuesday), as Steven Wright will be activated after serving his 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.
They need it.
Wright is joining a group that’s seen their best arms particularly taxed in June. Matt Barnes was used 12 times in the first 22 games, and Brandon Workman 11. With no replacements for Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly, Alex Cora has been forced to lean heavily on those two.
If the knuckleballer can find his form, he’ll immediately add depth to that unit.
“He’s been throwing the ball well. We’ve stretched him out to three innings. Kind of like the way we used him in August and September last year,” Cora said. “All depends on the workload. If he goes multiple innings, we’ll see how he feels the next day. As of now, no red flags. He’s been good, actually. We’ll see how it plays out.”
Wright — who underwent the same knee procedure as Dustin Pedroia — was excellent out of the bullpen when he was available last season.
He posted a 1.52 ERA in 29 2/3 innings of relief, and opponents hit .190 against him. Cora believes he made the other relievers around him better, too, because his pitch is such a change of pace.
“Somebody throwing 95 (mph) with cutters, and then throwing the knuckleball,” Cora said. “That’s the luxury of having him. He’s versatile, too, and obviously when his pitch is on, it’s a tough pitch to hit. Just happy to have him back and use him the right way.”
But this isn’t like the NFL where a PED suspension can be a blessing in disguise. Julian Edelman was forced to watch the first four games of last season from the sideline, but his body didn’t have the same wear-and-tear, and the receiver wound up Super Bowl MVP.
That won’t be the case with Wright.
No matter how deep the Red Sox go in the playoffs, the knuckleballer won’t throw a single pitch in October. Because of his drug ban, he’s ineligible for postseason play.
So while Wright certainly fills a short-term need — the bullpen is better today than it was yesterday — the back end remains a long-term problem.
“It’s always good to have multiple guys in the bullpen who can go multiple innings, regardless if it’s winning situations or games that are getting out of hand the other way,” Cora said.
”It’s always good. It helps you out throughout the week. ... You feel comfortable that you don’t have to go to certain guys all the time, all the time, all the time, regardless of whether they’re the guys in the high-leverage situations or the other guys to keep the game close.”
Dave Dombrowski still needs to add to Cora’s high-leverage options. And soon.
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