Red Sox bullpen was built to dominate, but it's already showing cracks

Tomase: Red Sox' revamped bullpen already showing a few cracks originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

If there's one area we weren't supposed to worry about this spring, it was the Red Sox bullpen.

The defensive alignments may be a little mismatched, and the starting rotation may be a bit banged up, and the lineup may be anyone's guess, but the bullpen? That's a no-doubt-about-it strength.

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After all, Chaim Bloom's primary success this winter was remaking the final three innings, with an emphasis on strike throwing. Over the last six months, Bloom bid adieu to wayward arms like Austin Davis, Hirokazu Sawamura, Jake Diekman, and Matt Barnes.

Assessing the Red Sox' new-look bullpen for 2023

In their place, he acquired All-Star closer Kenley Jansen, proven setup man Chris Martin, and solid lefties Richard Bleier and Joely Rodriguez. With the exception of Rodriguez, all are known for pounding the strike zone -- Martin just led the big leagues in walk rate with just five in 56 innings -- as well as for their reliability. The days of Alex Cora hoping Tyler Danish could close out the Blue Jays were over.

It may come as some surprise, then, that the bullpen is not entering the season as the automatic we might've hoped.


Rodriguez was diagnosed with an oblique strain and could miss two months. Multi-inning weapon Tanner Houck needs to open the season in the rotation because of injuries to James Paxton, Brayan Bello, and Garrett Whitlock, and he has struggled this spring, anyway. Cora recently highlighted holdovers John Schreiber and Ryan Brasier as disappointments in camp.

"Not where they want to be," Cora told reporters on Monday. "There's a lot of contact right now, a lot of loud contact."

That was before Schreiber stanched the bleeding with a better outing on Tuesday against the Orioles, but still, a supposed strength looks more like a question mark.

Schreiber has allowed eight hits and six runs in eight innings. Brasier has served up a pair of homers. Kaleb Ort has permitted an unsightly 16 baserunners in only 6.1 innings. Before his injury, Rodriguez had posted a 16.88 ERA. Houck has walked the house all spring.


Jansen has pitched well in limited appearances, but there are questions about him that don't even involve the pitch clock. While one of baseball's slowest workers will have to pick up the pace, of greater concern are three issues: He doesn't hold runners (only seven caught stealing lifetime in 103 attempts) and thus with the new rules to encourage steals could turn many walks into doubles; he has never faced lineups as talented as those in the American League East on a daily basis; and the Curaçao native will need to learn to pitch in the cold after spending his entire career in Los Angeles and Atlanta. He wouldn't be the first veteran closer to struggle in Boston after an All-Star career elsewhere.

The return to health of Whitlock and Bello should help by allowing Houck and perhaps Kutter Crawford to join the 'pen. But in the meantime, it's OK to feel uneasy about a group that supposedly represented a strength, but for the moment appears to be a bit of a question mark.