On Friday night, John Farrell turned to Craig Kimbrel to pitch the ninth inning.
Fine, right? No big deal. That's how this is supposed to work!
One problem: there were two outs, and it was a four-run game.
Alright, that makes it sound worse (or, rather, better) than it actually was. There were two men on base in the inning, the result of a rally off of Robbie Ross Jr. that had already cut the lead from 6-1 to 6-2. And yes, that means that technically, it was a save situation, which if you ask me is a term that should be wiped from the face of the Earth that we might pretend it never existed in the first place given how stupid and arbitrary it is.
But I digress. With just one out needed, John Farrell decided to use up his closer. Maybe this outing and the warmup pitches it entailed never end up mattering. Or maybe Kimbrel has to pitch today and Sunday and up comes Monday and it's 5-4 in the ninth inning against the Braves and the Red Sox fans are looking around for their closer but, no, he's not available because he's pitched on three straight days. Either way, that's not the point, at least not here. The Red Sox are wasting Kimbrel in what should be a gimme situation. The question is why?
The answer, I believe, is not hard to figure out. They could either waste Kimbrel, or Koji, or Tazawa. Because there's just nobody else John Farrell trusts. Not Ross in the middle of an already mediocre outing. Not hard-going-in, hard-coming-out Matt Barnes. Not "Oh Noe" Ramirez. And not Tommy Layne with the right-handed Correa coming up to bat (though Layne's usage pattern would suggest not even if Correa were a lefty with extreme splits). The one guy who seems to be instilling some faith is Heath Hembree, and he handled the eighth.
This begs the question, though: if these players aren't good enough to trust to hold a four-run lead with one out to go in the ninth, then what use are they? Seriously, there's a line to be drawn between uncertain of success, and certain of failure. It's not just that John Farrell isn't sure if he can trust this guys, but that he seems convinced that he can't, even in situations with such relatively low demands.
The Red Sox desperately need Carson Smith
The absence of Carson Smith has never been felt quite so strongly as it was Thursday afternoon against the Rays.
This is, in essence, the worst-case scenario made manifest even when it hasn't necessarily come to pass. There might be some quality to be found in these pitchers, but it doesn't matter because they haven't garnered enough faith to earn innings that you couldn't entrust to a position player. If they don't pitch important innings, and don't, in practice, protect those guys who do have the manager's trust from having to pitch the relatively unimportant ones, then what good are they? The Sox need to find options beyond Uehara, Tazawa, and Kimbrel, who are all on pace for career highs in innings despite the Sox explicitly saying they were trying to keep innings down this year.
This is not necessarily a critique of the pitchers in question, though they have all given John Farrell one reason or another to be skeptical. But they could all be the second coming of Mariano Rivera and if their manager didn't have the faith to go to them even in a situation like this? Then it doesn't matter how good they are because they're never going to be put to use.
And if that's the case, then frankly, they shouldn't be here. No, the Red Sox won't be replacing them with surefire options. Excepting Carson Smith when he's ready, that is. But as it stands, lacking even the slightest modicum of trust from their manager, these guys are basically without value for the Red Sox. The call-ups from the minor leagues may or may not be better pitchers--with a guy like Anthony Varvaro, that chance honestly seems very real--but it just can't really be any worse. Either the new guys get a shot, establish trust, and have value, or they don't, and the Red Sox are no worse off than they were before, with a bunch of guys who may as well not be on the roster for all the good they'll do.