The state of the Red Sox bullpen is getting better.
Over the last two nights, the Sox have seen Junichi Tazawa follow Felix Doubront’s solid start with three scoreless frames on Thursday and Matt Albers log two scoreless innings in relief of Daniel Bard’s impressive outing on Friday.
Left-hander Justin Thomas, who was the culprit of many of the bullpen’s early season implosions, was optioned to Pawtucket and reliable left-hander Rich Hill was summoned after completing his rehab from Tommy John surgery.
Now, as Aaron Cook’s May 1 opt-out date is nearing and the Sox seemingly have no space in the rotation since they are committed to sticking with Doubront and Bard, and letting Clay Buchholz work out his mechanics, the team could add Cook to the pen. The Red Sox and Cook are receptive to the idea, and the 33-year-old sinkerballer is healthy and thriving at Pawtucket.
When Cook is called up, it will be interesting to see who he replaces if he indeed is added to the pen. Tazawa has options remaining, but he has allowed no runs, three hits and no walks in six innings. His WHIP is 0.50, and opposing batters have a .143 average against him.
Matt Albers has a 2.25 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP in eight innings, and hard-throwing left-hander Franklin Morales has established himself as the eighth inning set-up man, allowing three of his four runs in one outing and permitting just one run the other seven games.
Vicente Padilla and Alfredo Aceves have undoubtedly had ups and downs in the earlygoing – especially Aceves – but they are valuable relievers who can also spot start.
Seemingly the most expendable reliever is 36-year-old right-hander Scott Atchison, who is a long reliever, a role that Cook could fill. Yet Atchison has been one of Bobby Valentine’s most reliable arms, logging a 2.31 ERA, a 0.94 WHIP and holding opposing hitters to a .209 average.
If the Sox do bring Cook up as a reliever, it will likely be Atchison or Tazawa whose spot will be filled. Since Atchison would have to clear waivers, and he has proven to be a reliable arm, perhaps that will lead the Sox to make the easiest move and option Tazawa to Pawtucket.
The team will face another decision when Andrew Miller’s rehab stint ends May 7. Aside from one poor outing, the left-hander has dominated opposing hitters, but he has also struggled with his control. Cook, though, represents the immediate order of business for the Sox pen.