Oakland, CA, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Junichi Tazawa (63) pitches the ball against the Oakland Athletics during the fourth inning at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE
On Monday, we took a look at how the hitters auditioning for a larger role in 2013 were doing. Today, we check in on the pitchers who are doing the same, to see if they are making their case, or need to work on their pitch.
There aren't nearly as many pitchers fighting for a role, since the Red Sox haven't called Alex Wilson up from the minors yet (if they plan to at all), and since Zach Stewart spent just the one day with Boston before he was sent back to Pawtucket. There are a few worth discussing, though, as all three could very well be part of the 2013 bullpen from Opening Day onward.
Junichi Tazawa and Clayton Mortensen didn't just arrive on the scene in September when rosters expanded, but with the reshuffling of Boston's bullpen, and no need for sending either of the two hurlers down once more, they've seen expanded roles. Tazawa has been called up multiple times, and has been nothing but effective, posting a 1.62 ERA on the year while stranding 65 percent of his inherited baserunners. He's struck out 6.4 times as many batters as he's walked, a rate that has climbed with time as his punch out numbers begin to more closely resemble his ridiculous relief work from Triple-A.
Tazawa, options or no, is pitching like someone who is going to be part of the 2013 bullpen from start through finish, barring anything catastrophic. It's not quite where he was envisioned years ago, when he was a starter in the Red Sox system, but after his last 130-plus innings or so, mostly in relief, Boston is likely at least pleased he's been this effective out of the pen.
As for Mortensen, he's been sent up and down even more often than Tazawa. but has been similarly effective. He owns a 2.12 ERA in 34 frames over 20 games pitched, and has struck out 2.5 times as many hitters as he's walked. While the walk rate isn't great, at 3.2 per nine, the strikeout rate is a career-best for this amount of innings in the majors, and is a good sign that Boston's mechanical changes for Mortensen, employed early on, are doing what they were intended to.
Mortensen has likely also pitched well enough to stop taking the bus back down 95, as even his more down to earth stint, from July 31 onward (well, we say stint, but he was sent up and down during this stretch, too) features a 3.29ERA and 715 opponent OPS. It's not the best work out there, but the total package has been very useful, and the fact that Mortensen can replace what Scott Atchison used to do -- highly effective long relief innings -- is a boon for a Red Sox club that now doesn't have to go out searching for that guy this winter. It might not seem like much, but as Atchison has shown, it can be an important role in the right hands.
Last, there's Chris Carpenter, whose place on the 2013 squad is far more uncertain than that of Tazawa or Mortensen. Carpenter has appeared in just two games, totaling 1-1/3 innings, so there's nothing to glean from his performance at this level to this point. In the minors, however, working back from elbow surgery, Carpenter impressed: the right-hander struck out 25 batters in 21 frames, walking 10, but limiting hits. You can't always bet on hits being low like that, but Carpenter has legitimate strikeout stuff, and knows how to miss bats and make things difficult for hitters. At least, when he's not letting them walk to first, anyway.
Carpenter will be 27 next year, in a career slowed by injuries. But he is a likely candidate to fill the role Tazawa and Mortensen did in 2012, as he has an option that can be used in 2013, and is already on the 40-man roster. His September -- and the following spring -- are likely to be about earning dibs on that job, in order to be in the situation Tazawa and Mortensen are now in by this time next year, if not sooner, thanks to his performance in the role.