Carson Smith is finally ready to take his place in Boston's bullpen, with the team activating him Tuesday afternoon ahead of their series opener against the White Sox in Chicago.
Smith has been on the mend from a flexor mass muscle strain since March 22nd, leaving the Red Sox to muddle through the first month of the season without one of the game's best young relievers. The 26-year-old reliever, acquired for Wade Miley over the offseason, recorded a 2.31 ERA in 70 innings with the Mariners last year, striking out nearly 12 batters per nine innings. All told, he was the fifth most valuable reliever in baseball last year by Fangraphs' measurements.
The Red Sox aren't exactly asking Smith to put out a fire, though. While the bullpen experienced some early difficulties, it's coalesced quite nicely in recent weeks. Better outings from the rotation have allowed the Sox to get the workloads of Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara back under control. The addition of Smith should only make that easier, and while it's hard to compete with Craig Kimbrel, there's an argument to be made that if the Red Sox are looking for an all-important out or inning, Smith could be the best bet of the bunch.
If that role is in Smith's future--perhaps as the designated fireman rather than the closer, given Kimbrel's presence--it will likely take a bit to develop. He has, after all, been out of action for a while, and if he's looked like his usual self in his pair of rehab outings, the Red Sox will still want to ease him back into things before throwing him into the biggest at bats of any given game.
When Smith is fully in the swing of things, though, he figures to be an inordinately significant addition for being just another reliever in an already strong bullpen. With a lineup that has made a habit of erasing deficits, and still a couple rotation spots to be ironed out, the Red Sox are a team that might be in the market for important relief innings earlier than most. And when it comes to shutting down the heart of a lineup to, say, hold a small lead that the offense just regained, Smith is one of the best in the business.