Terry Francona grateful for ‘some semblance of order’ in Red Sox bullpen
|08.04.11 at 5:50 pm ET|
A lot has been said about Jacoby Ellsbury’s consecutive walk-off hits the past two nights, but an argument could be made that the Red Sox center fielder wouldn’t have even had the opportunity to win the game had it not been for some strong performances out of the Boston bullpen.
Jonathan Papelbon pitched perfect ninth innings on both Tuesday and Wednesday against the Indians in non-save situations while situational lefties Franklin Morales and Randy Williams each put together outings that lasted longer than an inning without allowing a run.
Those performances were, of course, preceded by Daniel Bard’s horrid performance on Monday (he allowed three runs in just 1/3 of an inning to break up his career-best scoreless streak of 26 1/3 innings), but Red Sox manager Terry Francona said that the strength of the rest of his relievers in their given roles makes those games easier to swallow.
“We’re going to lose the occasional game,” Francona said. “But we don’t need three mounds down there. Guys throwing and not knowing who’s throwing. Games we lose like that hurt, but next game, we’ll go back and there’s some semblance of order.”
That order ends with Papelbon as it has since 2006. The closer has allowed just one hit and no runs in his last eight outings, all of which lasted a full inning, and that kind of performance has Francona thinking back to five years ago when the rookie Papelbon had a tiny ERA of 0.92.
“He’s been terrific,” said the Sox skipper. “He’s had a couple outings where he’s given up runs and it hasn’t helped his ERA [which stands at 3.35 entering Thursday]. But he’s been way closer to the Pap we saw his first year or so. Command of his fastball, the cutter, throwing the split, he’s been terrific.”
Even though he doesn’t have as much history with Morales or Williams, Francona also had praise for the two lefties who pitched in the last two games despite their occasional struggles this season. Williams’ scoreless 1 1/3 innings on Wednesday was just the third time in six major league outings this season that he has not allowed a run, and as a result his ERA dropped to a still-high 7.04. However, three of the four Indians he retired were left-handed hitters and therein lies the southpaw’s strength according to Francona.
“Randy, the times he’s given up runs have been when we’ve lengthened him out and he’s pitched against right-handers. That’s probably not his main role so the ERA’s higher than it should be. That doesn’t mean he can’t get lefties out.”
Morales, on the other hand, was equally as masterful in his outing on Tuesday. He struck out three while allowing just one hit over two innings of work to get the ball to Papelbon in a tie ballgame. While his ERA has hovered in the 3-4 range since he came to Boston in late May – it currently stands at 3.90 – he has proven that he can dominate opposing lefties when needed. His 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings rate ranks fifth-highest on the team behind Papelbon, fellow reliever Matt Albers, starter Jon Lester and Bard.
Francona said he hoped Tuesday was just the latest in what could be a stretch of strong outings from the lefty.
“Morales comes in and blows through two innings,” he said. “Anytime somebody stays out for the second inning, there’s a pretty good chance they’re throwing the ball really well. First of all, pitch count didn’t get him out of the game, and he didn’t give up runs so we wanted to send him back out.”
Morales, Williams, Bard and Papelbon together with longman Alfredo Aceves (3.19 ERA), Dan Wheeler (4.54) and Albers (2.25) form what could certainly be considered a strong bullpen for the Red Sox, but make no bones about it, strong should not be confused for great. Boston relievers rank fifth in the American League with a 3.47 collective ERA, again solid but not great. Francona wouldn’t even entertain a question about ranking this set of relievers up with ones he’s used in the past in Boston.
But he seemed more than OK to say that with an AL-best record of 68-41 heading into Thursday, he’ll take solid.
“We’ve had some good bullpens here,” Francona said. “And when we haven’t is when we’ve lost.”
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