What Bullpen Is This?

May 5, 2012; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Clayton Mortensen (59) pitches against the Baltimore Orioles during the fourth inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE

On April 21st, the Red Sox bullpen allowed 14 runs--13 of them earned--to turn a 9-1 lead into a 15-9 deficit. Alfredo Aceves and Vicente Padilla were particularly dreadful, surrendering five a piece in one of the worst losses in recent memory.

Since that day, the Red Sox have received 75.2 innings of work from the bullpen, not including Darnell McDonald's. In that time, they've surrendered all of nine earned runs, good for a 1.07 ERA.

The contributions have come from all over:

  • Clayton Mortensen has been nothing short of a revelation; after coming over in a Marco Scutaro trade seen as little more than a salary dump he has thrown 9.1 innings, allowing just one run, striking out 12, and walking none.
  • Rich Hill has struggled a bit with control, but has still managed to keep runs off the board in his return from Tommy John Surgery, allowing just he one in 6.2 innings of work.
  • Andrew Miller has actually managed to walk not a single batter in his five scoreless innings.
  • Junichi Tazawa contributed 6.1 scoreless innings before becoming the victim of complicated roster machinations.
  • Alfredo Aceves has shown surprising bursts of velocity and dominance, hitting the high 90s and striking out 15 batters in 11.2 innings of work.
  • And even though Vicente Padilla and Matt Albers have each been the author of a blown save in the month, they came on their only earned runs of said period.
  • Finally, pitching mostly in mop-up situations, Scott Atchison has managed a remarkable 11.1 straight scoreless innings.

It's a run that the Sox haven't exactly made the best of, with their starting pitching blowing games early and forcing long outings from the pen. And an up-and-down lineup is no more blameless. Still, with all this coming after the opening weeks when it seemed like this bunch would never hold a lead again, it's a positive sign.

The question is, will it continue? The answer is hopefully that it won't need to, at least not on this level. A good bullpen doesn't need more than four or five pitchers who can reliably record outs. Right now it looks like the Sox have eight men not even including Mark Melancon (19 strikeouts in 11 scoreless Triple-A innings) or the injured Andrew Bailey from which to from a working bullpen.

In the lakes of Matt Albers, Vicente Padilla, Scott Atchison, and Andrew Miller we have serious reason to question these contributions. Padilla hasn't really looked dominant on the mound, even if the runs have stayed off the board. Matt Albers has played at productivity before, but always seems to crash dramatically to Earth. Scott Atchison isn't bad, but he seems unlikely to be great either. And Andrew Miller...well, honestly, is anyone going to trust him before he's completed a year or two at this level?

But Tazawa and Mortensen are the sorts of young players who can simply have found their niche in the bullpen, Hill had looked unhittable last year when he was finding the zone with somewhat greater regularity, and it's hard to argue with the increased velocity of Alfredo Aceves.

Add in the players not with the team, and even Franklin Morales, who was being tabbed as our setup man at one point but has struggled to live up to the billing, and you've got an interesting group. If the starters can get through to the late innings without giving away the game, then the Sox seem like they'll be in much better position than any of us would have expected earlier in the year.

Even without Darnell McDonald.

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