By Jeff Louderback
A strength in April, the Red Sox bullpen has looked sluggish in May. Injuries are a key reason why.
Joel Hanrahan is out for the season, and Andrew Bailey in on the disabled list. Both were expected to fill the closer’s job and the eighth inning set-up role. Now Junichi Tazawa is the closer and Koji Uehara is the main set-up man. The right-handers are capable of effectively performing those jobs, but the bullpen depth has been zapped, especially with the ineffective of the demoted Alfredo Aceves, and the injured Franklin Morales (who is currently in the midst of a rehab stint at Double-A Portland).
The Red Sox could explore a trade to upgrade the pen, but likely they will look within the organization to enhance the late-inning relief situation. Rubby De La Rosa, the hard-throwing 24-year-old right-hander who was acquired in a package that included Allen Webster from the Dodgers last summer, appears Major League ready again.
De La Rosa is recovered from Tommy John surgery, but the Red Sox are monitoring his workload this season. Featuring a high 90s fast ball (that has touched 100) and a plus change-up, De La Rosa’s long-term future could be in the rotation. This year, though, he appears destined for a role in the Red Sox bullpen.
Part of the rotation at Triple-A Pawtucket, De La Rosa struggled early – allowing 10 runs (all earned) in 6.1 innings in his first three outings. He has not permitted a run in his last four starts, two of which have gone three innings and the last two four innings as the club continues to gradually stretch him out.
Over his last three games, De La Rosa has 18 strikeouts in 11 innings, including seven in four frames last weekend.Hitters have a .197 average against him. Though he is right-handed, lefty hitters are struggling against De La Rosa with a .174 mark. Right-handed batters have a .233 average.
It is uncertain how long Bailey will be sidelined, but likely he will regain the closer’s role when he returns. Morales will bolster the pen when he is activated, though the left-hander could join the rotation if Doubront continues to scuffle. Rookie Alex Wilson has a 1.54 ERA, and he projects as a future set-up man, but this season he is more ideally suited as a reliever who is used in low-pressure situations.
De La Rosa has the power arm that is necessary to overmatch hitters in the eighth and ninth innings. Chances are, the Red Sox will give him a chance to prove he is Major League ready sooner than expected because of the array of injuries in the pen.