During their trip through Tampa earlier this week, the Red Sox faced situations of a similar nature in three straight games. Each of the first two nights they had a two-run lead when their starter gave way to the bullpen after five innings; on the third things were tied as the game entered the bottom of the sixth.
As such, John Farrell had a chance to make nine pitching changes while the game was either tied or the margin was no bigger than two runs in either direction. And in making those nine moves, the manager brought in eight different pitchers. The only duplicate what was the only sure thing: super-closer Koji Uehara.
It might as well have been declared an open call, considering Farrell clearly took advantage of the circumstances to hold auditions as he attempts to cast the ensemble that'll comprise his bullpen come October, and tries to figure out which player fits best in which role.
Even with 13 games to go in what is now officially a 90-win season there is little certainty about how the pieces fit leading up to Uehara -- and Craig Breslow's struggles Friday night against the Yankees couldn't have done much other than cloud the vision Farrell has for his production.
But these are decisions that are forthcoming, and they could ultimately be what decides whether these Red Sox are riding duck boats or become a nice little rebound story, so let's take a look at where things with 15 days remaining in the regular season.
With acknowledgment that confidence can evaporate quicker in a reliever than in any other role, here's how we'd rank the hierarchy of the Sox bullpen at this point:
10: Allen Webster
He was the only guy in the bullpen not to pitch in Tampa, he hasn't been used since his latest recall, and he hasn't ever made a relief appearance at the major-league level. His most important innings here on out will be those meaninglessly logged to spare the arms that'll be needed in the postseason.
9: Rubby De La Rosa
It's surprising that in 9.1 major-league innings, De La Rosa has issued only one walk after struggling to find the plate at Triple-A this season. (All 10 of his pitches in Tampa were strikes.) It's also surprising, though, how hittable he has been. Opponents are batting .351 against him since his electric debut in Houston, and that remains his only perfect inning. He'd be too unreliable in a big spot.
8. Ryan Dempster/Felix Doubront
One of these guys might make the postseason roster as a just-in-case long man, and both have previous experience in the bullpen. Dempster even has experience as a closer, but based on the high number of baserunners each allows in an average inning -- Dempster 1.46, Doubront 1.41 -- neither projects particularly well to prospective use in a tight spot.
7. Drake Britton
He took over in the seventh inning of a tie game Thursday, which would appear to be an indication that the Sox are still trying to figure out if he can help them in the postseason, even though they've used him sparingly since he posted a 10.13 ERA and a .440 opponents' batting average over a five-game stretch in August. He got four outs in his latest appearance, which included neither a hit nor a run.
6. Matt Thornton
He won a nine-pitch battle with Jose Lobaton to strand two runners and keep his club within one on Thursday night, but prior to that he'd been averaging 1.75 walks and hits per inning as a member of the Red Sox. His 2.92 ERA since coming to Boston is a bit misleading, as opponents are hitting .346 against him -- though they don't have an extra-base hit.
5. Franklin Morales
It was looking like a lost year for the lefty, but he may have reentered the conversation as an option for the postseason recently, having retired 13 of the 15 hitters he's faced since Aug. 30. That stretch suggests he might be beyond the control issues that plagued him while he was coming back from injury early, and the reason he's ranked better than Thornton here is this: lefties are batting .172, with a .172 slugging percentage, against him. He might be the better option to stick as the southpaw specialist.
4. Brandon Workman
He appears to be the guy Farrell hopes will emerge as the big-spot, middle-innings righty -- displacing Junichi Tazawa -- and Workman has the stuff to do that job when he's commanding. (See his 45 strikeouts in 39.2 innings at the major-league level.) But walks remain the concern, especially if he would be called upon with men on base or in a one-run game. There can be little tolerance for free baserunners in October.
3. Junichi Tazawa
Tazawa's perfect inning Friday night against the Yankees was the first time he got more than two outs without allowing a baserunner since Aug. 10, with 13 appearances in between. For now he remains the eighth-inning choice, but that responsibility is very much up for grabs.
2. Craig Breslow
Before he allowed both of the runners he inherited from John Lackey to score in Friday's seventh inning, Breslow had allowed two hits in eight innings of work. He's struck out only 29 hitters in 54 innings, which introduces the BABIP factor to late-innings situation, but the underappreciated lefty has been excellent all season, and with his ability to get hitters from both sides of the plate, he is more deserving of the primary setup role than anyone.
1. Koji Uehara
No explanation necessary. (Seriously. He's retired 37 straight hitters. Kind of speaks for itself.)
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