Projecting Red Sox's bullpen roles with relief pitchers finalized

Darren Hartwell
NBC Sports Boston

Projecting Red Sox's bullpen roles with relief pitchers finalized originally appeared on

The Boston Red Sox's bullpen undoubtedly is the club's biggest question mark entering the 2019 season.

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But at least we know who's part of the unit.

The Red Sox made five roster cuts Saturday, in the process finalizing the eight relief pitchers they'll carry into Opening Day. Here's the list in alphabetical order:

RHP Matt Barnes
RHP Ryan Brasier
RHP Colten Brewer
RHP Heath Hembree
LHP Brian Johnson
RHP Tyler Thornburg
RHP Hector Velázquez
RHP Brandon Workman

While it's not a particularly inspiring group on paper -- only Brasier had an ERA under 3.00 last season -- and it doesn't include All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, manager Alex Cora doesn't seem concerned.

"People outside our world think we're short on pitching. We're not. We're fine," Cora said Saturday, via The Boston Globe's Pete Abraham.

But who will pitch in which roles with Kimbrel and setup man Joe Kelly both gone? Cora continues to play coy, so here's our best guess for each role:

Closer: Matt Barnes

Barnes hasn't always been effective, but he's put in the time, throwing at least 60 innings in each of the past three seasons for Boston. The 28-year-old has made steady improvements each year, too, dropping his ERA to a career-low 3.65 in 2018 with a 3.10 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His leash will be short, but Barnes at least should get first crack at the closer job in 2019.

Setup man: Ryan Brasier

You could make a case for Brasier as the closer after his stellar 2018 campaign (six earned runs allowed over 33.2 innings). But he still has fewer than 50 career innings under his belt, and an infected pinky toe halted his progress in spring training. The 31-year-old thrived in the seventh and eighth innings last year, so why not keep him there?

Bridge/situational relievers: Tyler Thornburg, Colten Brewer, Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman

The Red Sox have been waiting three years for Thornburg. If he somehow stays on the field and returns to his 2016 form (2.15 ERA over 67 innings with the Brewers), he could get bumped up to the setup man role. For now, we expect Thornburg, Brewer, Hembree and Workman to operate primarily in the sixth and seventh innings based on matchups to bridge the gap to Brasier and Barnes.

Long relievers: Brian Johnson, Hector Velazquez

Johnson is the only current left-hander in the 'pen, so he could be used situationally, too. Both he and Velazquez have starting experience, though, and should get the call if a starter gets into trouble early.

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