Early season returns from the Red Sox bullpen

Tom Szczerbowski

As we approach the one-month mark of the regular season, we look at some notables from Boston's bullpen.

Coming into the season, the bullpen looked to be one of the strengths of the Red Sox. It was a deep unit, with seven quality major-league arms, and countless minor leaguers who could be more than useful if they were needed. Given their fickle nature, relief corps can be written off before the season, but having the number of quality arms Boston had, both on the active roster and in Pawtucket, it was hard to look at the depth chart and not be pleased. Now that we're about a month into the season, has the unit lived up to expectations in the early season? Well, Koji Uehara has continued to be amazing, holding down a 0.96 ERA and a 16/1 K/BB ratio in the early season, but that dominance is no surprise. Looking at the rest of the bullpen, though, there are a few interesting things that stand out to me.

Chris Capuano and Burke Badenhop's roles

When Capuano was signed late in the offseason, it was assumed he'd be filling the swingman role, filling in if a starter needed to skip an outing, and otherwise serving as a long reliever. I wrote about his early season role-reversal a couple weeks ago, and it has continued since then. The 35-year-old continues to find himself late in games, although he is appearing for more than three outs a bit more often. On top of that, he has remained dominant, with 14-1/3 scoreless innings under his belt and a 15/2 K/BB. Badenhop, on the other hand, has found himself to be a multi-inning man, and it's a role he's still adjusting to. He has already recorded at least six outs in an appearance five times this season, more than half of the nine times he did so in 2013 and 2012. He never threw more than 35 pitches a year ago, and he has already surpassed that three times in 2014. As a result, his peripherals have suffered, especially his strikeouts. Someone needs to make an adjustment here, whether it's Badenhop or Farrell. Either way, it's been interesting to see a bit of a role-reversal between Capuano and Badenhop.

20140415_jcd_bd5_042.jpg.0Photo credit: Jon Durr- USA TODAY Sports

Edward Mujica's struggles

Part of the reason there was so much confidence in this bullpen was the K/BB skills in the back-end. That had already existed with Uehara and Junichi Tazwa, but the addition of Edward Mujica made a tremendous three-headed monster. However, the latter has struggled in his first season in Boston through the first month. Through nine appearances and 8-1/3 innings, the former Cardinal's ERA has ballooned up to 8.64, and he's allowed an earned run in five of his nine appearances. A big reason for this has been his walks, as his 7.3 BB-rate is 2.5 points more than his highest rate since 2009. He's also battling a .355 batting average on balls in play. Because of the struggles, it is very possible that he has lost his backup closer role to Tazawa, at least for the time being. Tazawa has been his typical great self early on, with a 1.74 ERA and 10/1 K/BB in 10-1/3 innings.

Andrew Miller is being Andrew Miller

Miller was one of the most intriguing names on the roster coming into the season. After busting as one of the top starting pitching prospects in the game, he had begun to establish himself as a legitimately talented reliever last season before landing himself on the disabled list for the second half of the year. So far, he has been back to his electric self. With ten innings under his belt, he has an 11/4 K/BB and a 2.70 ERA, and has been one of the better arms in the bullpen thus far. In fact, before giving up three runs in 1/3 of an inning on Sunday, his ERA was 0.97. With the quick start, it could be possible that we see Miller take some of Mujica's late-inning stints, at least while the latter is straightening himself out after his early struggles. Putting Miller in a set-up role would set up some nice double-barrelled action in the 7th and 8th, and would put two high-strikeout guys in that spot. While he's much better against left-handed hitting, Farrell has used Miller against both righties and lefties, and his performance deserves a chance to shine in a higher role.

Overall, the bullpen has been just about as good as anyone could've hoped. While Mujica has struggled in the first month of the year, guys like Capuano and Miller have stepped up to fill the void. Roles in bullpens can be extremely fluid, especially outside of the ninth inning, and that isn't any different for the Red Sox. Already we've seen Badenhop get more long appearances than Capuano. It's possible that Miller could take some 8th inning stints from Mujica and Tazawa take over the backup closer role, too. When June rolls around, everything could be different, but right now, John Farrell and the Red Sox have to be happy with the bullpen.

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