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How can Red Sox fix struggling bullpen internally? 06.23.16 at 11:50 pm ET
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Heath Hembree could see himself in more high leverage situations coming up. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Heath Hembree could see himself in more high leverage situations coming up. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

If this week’s series against the White Sox said anything, it’s that the Red Sox cannot count on Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara as much as once thought.

On Wednesday night, Uehara entered with the Red Sox leading 6-4 in the eighth inning and allowed two home runs to depart with the Red Sox trailing 7-6. Then in the seventh inning on Thursday, Tazawa entered with the Red Sox leading 5-4 and allowed a three-run home run to Jose Abreu and departed with the Red Sox trailing 7-5.

With Carson Smith out for the season with Tommy John surgery, some expected one of the two to slide into the set up role, but it doesn’t seem like that will be the case. Uehara has a 4.78 ERA in 26 1/3 innings, while Tazawa has a 3.18 ERA in 28 1/3 innings.

The way the current starting rotation is constructed, they cannot have the bullpen blowing many leads and need to find dependable relievers to lead into closer Craig Kimbrel.

Right-hander Heath Hembree took a step in the right direction in doing that on Thursday as he tossed a scoreless eighth inning to keep the Red Sox within striking distance and was able to get Adam Eaton out with the bases loaded to end the frame.

“Quality strikes in a key moment — and against a good hitter,” manager John Farrell said. “That might be a breakthrough moment for Heath. Bases loaded, really no other place to go, threw some pitches in some different locations than [other times] against lefties.”

The right-hander has been dominant against righties, as they were batting just .127 against him going into the day, but lefties were crushing him batting .475. The hope is Thursday will help build some momentum into more high leverage situations.

Another option could be down the road on I-95 in Pawtucket in hard-throwing right-hander Pat Light.

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Read More: heath hembree, junichi tazawa, Koji Uehara, pat light
Closing Time: Xander Bogaerts’ single gives Red Sox wild walk-off win over White Sox at 6:00 pm ET
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Dustin Pedroia helped lead a comeback Thursday against the White Sox. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

Dustin Pedroia helped lead a comeback Thursday against the White Sox. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how it goes, as long as it’s a W in the standings and that was the case Thursday for the Red Sox.

Even though the bullpen looked very vulnerable, the Red Sox were able to rally from 4-1 and 7-5 deficits to come away with a 8-7, 10-inning win over the White Sox to avoid a four-game sweep and their first four-game losing streak of the season.

Following two walks, Xander Bogaerts singled up the middle scoring Mookie Betts for a wild walk-off win.

This came after Craig Kimbrel got out of a bases loaded, nobody out jam in the top half of the inning.

After rallying from a 4-1 deficit entering the bottom of the sixth inning to take a 5-4 lead after the frame, Junichi Tazawa promptly allowed the White Sox to regain the lead in the top of the seventh as he allowed a three-run home run to Jose Abreu.

Tazawa’s performance comes following Wednesday night when Koji Uehara took the loss as he allowed two home runs when he entered the game with a 6-4 lead. The bullpen has now allowed seven runs in the last two games with three coming on homers.

The home run gave the White Sox a 7-5 lead, but once again the Red Sox wouldn’t go down without a fight as they scored a run in the seventh on a sacrifice fly by Travis Shaw and then tied it in the eighth when Dustin Pedroia singled home Marco Hernandez who doubled with one out.

After White Sox starter James Shields departed in the top of the sixth, the Red Sox plated four runs in the inning (three charged to Shields) to turn a 4-1 deficit into a 5-4 lead and things were looking good at that point.

With the bases loaded and no outs, Hanley Ramirez hit a weak ground ball to second base that Brett Lawrie overthrew first base and two runs scored on the play. Then, pinch-hitter Sandy Leon singled to tie the game at four and the next batter Hernandez hit into a fielders choice to plate Ramirez as the go-ahead run at the time.

Red Sox starter Rick Porcello didn’t have his best stuff. The right-hander went just 5 1/3 innings, allowing four runs on eight hits, while walking one and hitting two. He had a season-low two strikeouts. It was also his shortest start since May 17 when he went five innings in a loss to the Royals.

The White Sox scored quickly against Porcello, putting two runs in the board in the top of the first inning before most settled into their seats. He allowed a lead off single, hit the next batter and then Jose Abreu singled to score Tim Anderson for the first run of the game. The second run scored on a Melky Cabrera double play.

Porcello would give up two more runs — one in the fourth and another in the sixth. In the sixth, he allowed a lead off triple to Cabrera and he scored on a sacrifice fly from Todd Frazier.

Closing Time note

It was the second walk-off win of the season for the Red Sox.

Here is what went right (and wrong) in the Red Sox’ win:

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Read More: Dustin Pedroia, hanley ramirez, junichi tazawa, rick porcello
John Farrell explains thinking behind management of bullpen in loss 04.06.16 at 10:45 pm ET
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Junichi Tazawa

Junichi Tazawa

CLEVELAND — When it came to identifying the effectiveness of the Red Sox bullpen in Boston’s 7-6 loss to the Indians Wednesday night, one pitch significantly altered the conversation.

That one offering came from Junichi Tazawa, whose split-finger fastball stayed up just enough for Mike Napoli to launch it over the left field wall for what proved to be the game-winning blast.

“A split that never got to where he tried to bury it, down below the zone,” Farrell said of the seventh-inning solo home run. “He threw a couple of really good ones in the at-bat and the third one he threw him stayed up, stayed in the middle of the plate.”

“I was trying to bounce it,” Tazawa said through a translator. “I was able to get a swing-and-miss at previous pitches. That was the directions I got in the bullpen, but I mislocated it.”

Farrell explained after the game that Tazawa, who threw 16 pitches and faced three batters, wasn’t going to stay in the game long. He had entered in the seventh, after Noe Ramirez and Robbie Ross Jr. teamed up to pitch the previous inning.

With Ramirez already having had to follow up starter Clay Buchholz with 1 1/3 innings, and Ross Jr. coming on for his two batters, Farrell knew there wasn’t a lot of length left with at least three more innings to go.

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What you should know about Red Sox’ bullpen 02.12.16 at 11:17 am ET
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Steven Wright

Steven Wright

Barring injuries, there doesn’t figure to be that much drama when it comes to figuring out the Red Sox roster.

You have the four outfielders — Chris Young, Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. — playing three positions. Travis Shaw and Brock Holt figure to serve as back-up plans in both the infield and OF.

The catching situation might offer some intrigue, but that dynamic will largely depend on the health of Christian Vazquez, and continued progress of Blake Swihart. If both are perceived to be ready to hit the ground running when April rolls around, then you might be hearing some Ryan Hanigan trade talk.

The rotation? David Price, Clay Buchholz, Eduardo Rodriguez, Rick Porcello and Joe Kelly.

Then there is the bullpen.

There would seem to be some certainties in what figures to be a group of seven. Craig Kimbrel, Carson Smith, Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara, Robbie Ross Jr., Tommy Layne and Roenis Elias enter mid-February as the odds on favorites to be the pen’s inhabitants.

But, according to a major league source, the Red Sox continue to look at lefty relief options, with veteran Neal Cotts perhaps the most realistic option on a minor league deal if such an acquisition is made. The team has had an offer to Craig Breslow, also on a minor league contract, but that reunion doesn’t seem likely at this point.

So, where might there be some wiggle room?

Layne is out of options, so unless he falls apart in spring training, he is the kind of lefty specialist the Red Sox seemingly wouldn’t want to part with.

Ross Jr. has options, but the Red Sox were very impressed with his performance at the tail-end of 2015 after the southpaw figured out his knee issues. If there are any hiccups in March, the 26-year-old’s spot might represent the window of opportunity for someone on the outside looking in.

Matt Barnes is on the 40-man roster, and also had a strong finish. So, as long as John Farrell is comfortable with the likes of Layne and Elias (or a lefty to be named later), the righty’s velocity might be a welcomed addition. Heath Hembree, Edwin Escobar and Noe Ramirez (both also on the 40-man) are two other guys in that same boat as Barnes.

Williams Jerez, a 23-year-old who just converted to pitching two seasons ago, should be very intriguing this spring. He is on the 40-man roster and struck out 86 in 88 2/3 innings at three different minor league levels. The left-handeder almost certainly won’t be immediately in the mix, but he could make an interesting impression. Hard-throwing Pat Light’s situation is similar, seemingly needing more time to learn the art of relieving, but in position to make his mark in case needed at some point in 2016.

Then there is Steven Wright.

Like Layne and Tazawa, Wright is out of options. The knuckleballer is a favorite of the Red Sox’ coaching staff, and certainly has already proven his value on a big league roster.

And while it might seem that Wright should have the advantage over Elias when talking about possibly transforming a starter into a reliever due to roster flexibility, understand that the former Mariners hurler has a proven track record as an everyday major leaguer. This is a guy who not only started 49 games over the last two seasons, but held left-handed batters to a .608 OPS in 2015.

Other non-roster candidates also loom, with Anthony Varvaro back on a minor league deal. (It should be noted that the Red Sox’ 40-man roster is currently maxed out.) Brandon Workman still needs time after recovering from Tommy John surgery.

At least there is some intrigue to hang our hats on heading into the kick off of camp next week.

Read More: Carson Smith, Craig Kimbrel, junichi tazawa, Koji Uehara
Junichi Tazawa avoid arbitration, agrees to 1-year deal 01.20.16 at 9:32 pm ET
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Junichi Tazawa

Junichi Tazawa

Two down, one to go.

The Red Sox find themselves just one Robbie Ross Jr. contract agreement from extending their streak of not having to participate in an arbitration hearing to 14 years. (The last time they had to experience such an endeavor was prior to the 2002 season, when Rolando Arrojo lost his case, ending up at the club’s figure of $1.9 million.)

The latest settlement to get done is Junichi Tazawa, who agreed to a one-year, $3.375 million deal with the Red Sox Wednesday. It was the reliever’s third year of arbitration eligibility. Tazawa had filed with an arbitration figure of $4.15 million, with the Red Sox countering at $2.7 million.

Tazawa is expected to once again be counted on for late-inning relief, joining Koji Uehara, Carson Smith and Craig Kimbrel as the group being counted on for high-leverage, late-inning outs.

The 29 year old slumped badly in the second half of the 2015 season, ultimately being shut down for the season’s final three weeks. Tazawa posted a 2.58 ERA and .215 batting average against prior to the All-Star break, while managing just a 7.08 ERA and .386 BAA after.

The Red Sox already agreed to terms with Joe Kelly, who avoided the arbitration process by agreeing to a one-year, $2.6 million deal in his first year of eligibility.

Ross Jr. remains the only arbitration-eligible member of the Red Sox to still not agree to terms.

Read More: arbitration, Joe Kelly, junichi tazawa, Red Sox
Closing Time: Junichi Tazawa, Red Sox bullpen implode again in loss to Rays 09.11.15 at 10:38 pm ET
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Pablo Sandoval couldn't catch up to this Chris Archer offering. (Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

Pablo Sandoval couldn’t catch up to this Chris Archer offering. (Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

Remember when Junichi Tazawa was good? It’s becoming a distant memory.

As the Red Sox assess areas in need of improvement for 2016, the bullpen belongs atop the list. On Friday night in Tampa, Tazawa continued a horrid stretch by blowing a save in the eighth inning as part of an implosion that turned a potential 4-3 Red Sox victory into a demoralizing 6-4 loss.

This one was on Tazawa, whose struggles date to the start of the second half. He took a 5.40 ERA since the All-Star break into his appearance, and that was before submitting the following horror show: double, single, wild pitch, homer, single, wild pitch, steal, strikeout, mercifully lifted.

When Noe Ramirez allowed another homer, that closed the book on Tazawa, who ended up allowing four hits and four runs in just one-third of an inning.

He now owns a 6.95 ERA in the second half and has allowed opposing batters to compile an OPS of over 1.000. Interim manager Torey Lovullo told reporters in Florida that the club has no plans to shut down Tazawa.

“I don’t think so, no,” he said. “We know he’s had 71 outings back-to-back years, he’s into the 60s now. I really don’t think so. He’s a guy that’s in tremendous shape. He wants to be in that moment. I just think fastball command right now is a little bit inconsistent. They hit a couple good pitches tonight. I want to give them a little bit of credit.”

It’s too bad, because Tazawa’s implosion ruined what had the look of another encouraging victory. The Red Sox overcame an immediate 3-1 hole against overpowering Rays starter Chris Archer to knock him out of the game after five-plus innings. The Sox then rallied for three runs in that frame and appeared to be in line for the win until Tazawa decided otherwise.

Left-hander Wade Miley delivered one of his grittier efforts of the season, overcoming Tampa’s three-run first to silence the Rays until Tazawa took over in the eighth. Miley allowed seven hits and three runs in seven innings, striking out five and walking none.

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Junichi Tazawa, Red Sox deny reliever battling fatigue despite rough August stretch 08.23.15 at 6:52 pm ET
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Junichi Tazawa

Junichi Tazawa

While the team and Junichi Tazawa may not be acknowledging it, it appears the Red Sox reliever is battling some fatigue.

Tazawa allowed four runs on six hits in the ninth inning blowing the save in the Red Sox‘ 8-6 loss to the Royals Sunday at Fenway Park. The right-hander has thrown 68 1/3 and 63 innings each of the last two seasons and already has thrown 53 this year.

Including Sunday, Tazawa has allowed nine runs in eight appearances in August. Going into the month he had allowed 14 runs over 46 appearances.

“I feel fine. Fatigue is not a factor,” Tazawa said through a translator.

Interim manager Torey Lovullo said he didn’t think fatigue has been a factor either.

“Not really,” Lovullo said. “I think when you look up there and see he’s throwing his fastball in the mid-90s, he’s locating his fastball, he’s able to throw secondary quality stuff, I don’t see much wear and tear on him at all. He wants to go out there and compete and he just didn’t get the job done today.”

Last year, Tazawa had an ERA of 2.61 in the first half of the season and 3.24 in the second half. It’s much of the same this year, as he posted a 2.58 ERA in the first half and his second half ERA currently stands at 6.97.

Another possible reason for the struggles is a change of role, as Tazawa is currently the Red Sox‘ closer with Koji Uehara out for the season.

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Closing Time: Marlins get better of Red Sox in battle of worsts 08.11.15 at 10:45 pm ET
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MIAMI — This Koji Uehara-free closer thing has never really worked out too well over the past three seasons, and Tuesday night was no exception.

Carrying a one-run lead into the ninth inning, the Red Sox turned to Junichi Tazawa to pick up his second career save. But the reliever couldn’t get the job done, allowing the Marlins to score a game-tying run in the ninth.

What it would ultimately lead to was a 5-4, 10-inning win for the worst team in the National League, the Marlins, beating the worst team in the American League, the Red Sox, at Marlins Park.

“It’s something that we talked about pregame,” Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo said of the decision to use Tazawa as a closer. (Lovullo was subbing in for John Farrell after the manager’s hernia surgery). “With lineup construction, depending where we were in the lineup with certain matchups. We didn’t have a closer with certainty. We just figured based on where we were in the lineup, the way we wanted to construct it and have the right matchups. The way it lined up was with [Jean] Machi in the eighth and Tazawa in the ninth.”

Miami sealed the deal in the 10th against Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow. After Breslow gave up a leadoff triple to Dee Gordon, Lovullo decided to walk Martin Prado.

The move didn’t quite work out despite a strikeout of Derek Deitrich. With one out, the lefty-hitting Justin Bour rifled the game-winning hit into left-center field to score Gordon.

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Closing Time: Junichi Tazawa’s troubles continue in Red Sox’ loss to Tigers 08.08.15 at 10:19 pm ET
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Junichi Tazawa

Junichi Tazawa

With all the talk about how the Red Sox need to fix their starting rotation for next season, an equally as daunting task may be rebuilding the team’s bullpen.

The latest example of how far the Red Sox relievers have fallen came with two outs in the seventh inning Saturday night, with Junichi Tazawa facing Detroit’s Victor Martinez while trying to preserve a one-run lead.

As has been the case of late, the outcome was not good for Tazawa or the Red Sox.

The Red Sox reliever hung a split-fingered fastball to Martinez, who launched a go-ahead two-run blast into the right field seats. The hit would be the decisive blow in the Tigers’ 7-6 win over the Sox.

With the home run, Red Sox relievers had allowed opponents a .623 slugging percentage for August. Tazawa continues to exemplify the bullpen’s downturn, coming into the game having allowed a .382 batting average and 1.059 OPS against since the All-Star break.

Heading into Saturday, Red Sox relievers’ batting average against was .308 in August, with the bullpen’s ERA standing at 5.40 for the month.

The loss was made even more frustrating for the Red Sox considering they had come from behind earlier in the seventh, with David Ortiz‘s two-run single giving the visitors a lead. It was Ortiz’s third hit of the night, as he doubled in the first inning and hit his 23rd homer in the sixth.

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Read More: David Ortiz, junichi tazawa, victor martinez, wade miley
Closing Time: Junichi Tazawa allows 2 runs in 8th inning as Red Sox can’t hold lead vs. Rays 08.02.15 at 4:45 pm ET
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Wade Miley picked up his ninth win of the season Sunday against the Rays. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Wade Miley received a no-decision as Junichi Tazawa allowed two eighth inning runs to take the loss. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Junichi Tazawa has been the Red Sox‘ most dependable reliever this season, but even he can have a bad day once in a while.

Unfortunately for the Red Sox and Wade Miley, Tazawa allowed two eighth-inning runs in the their 4-3 loss to the Rays, spoiling a good start from Miley.

With the Red Sox leading 3-2 in the eighth, Evan Longoria doubled to lead off the inning and scored on Asdrubal Cabrera’s ground-rule double. Cabrera scored on a single by James Loney for the game-winning run. Tazawa picked up his fourth loss of the season.

“Today you have five consecutive fastballs to Asdrubal [Cabrera], which is a little bit uncommon for him and the last one leaked over the plate,” manager John Farrell said. “Even against Longoria to lead off the inning — tried to go down and away, ball ends up back arm side and close to Evan on that particular pitch. It’s been fastball location that hasn’t  been as sharp in those moments.”

Koji Uehara tossed a scoreless ninth inning.

Things didn’t get off to the best of starts for Miley. After allowing five first inning runs his last time out, Miley allowed a leadoff home run to Brandon Guyer to open the game, but quickly settled down.

The left-hander retired the next seven hitters, getting into a good groove. Miley finished going 6 2/3 innings allowing two runs on five hits, while walking a batter and striking out four. Robbie Ross entered with a runner on third and two outs and after hitting a batter and a walk, he struck out Joey Butler to get out of the jam.

“A very good assortment of all his pitches,” Farrell said of Miley. “I thought he blended his offspeed pitches in well against the heavy right-handed hitting lineup. The 3-2 fastball that Guyer runs into to get things started, but other than that he was in command for the time he was on the mound today.”

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Read More: David Ortiz, hanley ramirez, junichi tazawa, Robbie Ross
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