On Sunday afternoon, holding a 5.5-game lead over the Blue Jays for the East with just a week left to play, John Farrell was in a position to experiment. For Joe Kelly, that meant an extended run out of the pen. Farrell seemed willing to lose the game rather than pull Kelly in that nervous final frame, but Kelly passed with flying colors, and likely earned a check mark next to his name for October as a multi-inning reliever.
For Fernando Abad, it was just one high-leverage at bat against a lefty. Farrell needed to know if he could turn to Abad for at least that much. The result: a hard-hit ball that one-hopped its way through the infield and into right for a game-tying single. Where Kelly had passed a difficult test, Abad managed to fail a relatively easy one. Where Kelly earned a ticket to the postseason, it feels like Abad might have just pitches his way off the roster.
That won’t upset too many people. Abad was very much the face of the disaster month for Boston’s bullpen. In under 13 innings of work, he’s managed to surrender nine earned runs. He’s walked eight batters, given up two homers, and generally been a sign of bad things to come whenever he’s stepped out of the bullpen. But if Sunday was his chance to show he could get lefties out...well, it really shouldn’t be something he needs to prove.
Let’s ignore his numbers in Minnesota for now, because it feels like hearkening back to his better days won’t really sway any hearts and minds in Boston. No Sox fan wants to hear how effective he was elsewhere when he’s struggled so mightily with Boston. Instead, let’s just talk Sox. Of the 60 batters Abad has faced, 35 of them have been right-handed. And yet, of the 38 outs that Abad has produced, 21 of them have come against lefties. You may notice A) that means Abad has been awful against righties and B) that means Abad has allowed all of four left-handed baserunners. Even with that hit on Sunday, lefties are hitting .130/.200/.261 against Abad.
And this, lest we forget, is what Abad was brought here to do: get lefties out. When asked to do only that, he’s done his job. It’s just that, for a while there, the Sox didn’t have the bodies in the bullpen to use him properly. Now it appears they do. Kimbrel is the closer, while Koji and Ziegler can handle the eighth or high-leverage moments. Heath Hembree is back to missing bats, and Joe Kelly might finally have found his place in the world.
The question is: who takes the lefties. They can certainly use one of the Robb(y/ie)s for that. Scott has been excellent since making the jump to the majors, though he only has five innings of work. Ross is somehow an afterthought in a pen that once seemed to need all the help it could get despite his 3.21 ERA and a .597 OPS against. There’s even the possibility that Drew Pomeranz ends up in that position depending on how he and Buchholz look in their final starts.
Honestly, though, if Abad failed his test, and thus seems to be deserving of neither a roster spot nor playoff innings, the reality is that making him earn that spot with one at-bat and ignoring the first 24 he had against his intended competition isn’t terribly fair. Nor is judging him on all those at-bats he had to soak up against righties.
Now, it’s entirely possible the Red Sox simply don’t think they need a LOOGY. Better, after all, to have a lefty who can also get righties out, which is a pretty apt description of Ross. The same could be said of Pomeranz if he ends up in that role. But if Abad is suddenly a ba—
Wait, check that.
If Abad’s name seems to be ruined in Boston, it doesn’t deserve to be. He did what the Red Sox brought him in to do, and failed miserably at the rest. It can be hard to see past the bad to see the good, but it does exist.