Posted on July 20, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Boston Red Sox added a big piece for the stretch run on Saturday without having to make a trade. The club activated pitcher Nathan Eovaldi off the Injured List. However, rather than returning to the Red Sox starting rotation, Eovaldi will rejoin the team as a member of Boston’s bullpen, a plan devised by the club a few weeks ago.
Eovaldi initially went on the IL in mid-April after making just four starts. He underwent a procedure to address loose bodies in his pitching elbow. The original timeline for his return was four to six weeks. However, Eovaldi has been sidelined for nearly three months. On the bright side, he’ll have a chance to be a difference maker for the Red Sox during the second half of the season, much like he was when the club traded for him last July.
With Eovaldi returning as a part of the bullpen, he didn’t have to spend more time in the minors getting stretched out. More importantly, he adds a quality arm to a Boston bullpen that has struggled this season. Despite initial reports that Eovaldi would immediately become the team’s closer upon his return, he will initially share 9th-inning duties with Brandon Workman and other members of the Boston bullpen.
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“That’s the most important thing, that you don’t have to go to the same guys when you have a lead,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of having multiple players sharing the closer duties. “You have one more option.”
In addition to having limited experience pitching out of the bullpen, durability could be an issue with Eovaldi. He made just one rehab performance in the minors before being activated on Saturday, so his arm is not necessarily in mid-season form. The Red Sox will also want to be careful about pitching him on back-to-back days, which is why Cora doesn’t want to make him the full-time closer right away.
“I do think that we have to protect him, but at the same time he’s going to make us better,” said Cora “We’ll use him in high-leverage situations. I don’t know if we are going to work him into it … we know what he can do in terms of competing.”
Outside of Workman, who has been used to close out games recently, no one in Boston’s bullpen has been particularly effective this season. Heath Hembree and Matt Barnes have been solid but unspectacular. However, Cora doesn’t have much choice but to trust the trio of Workman, Hembree, and Barnes while hoping that Eovaldi can join that group in giving Boston four capable late-inning relievers.
“We have guys with stuff. That’s something we try to tell them,” says Cora. “It’s just a matter of putting everything together and getting the job done.”
With the Red Sox trading for Andrew Cashner last weekend, they should be fine to finish the rest of the season with Eovaldi in the bullpen. Of course, whether he can be effective in that role, especially if he’s asked to be the closer, remains to be seen. With a tight Wild Card race being Boston’s only chance of reaching the postseason, they need Eovaldi’s move to the bullpen to work out. In fact, if the Red Sox return to the postseason in 2019, it may very well be because of Eovaldi’s positive impact on one of the American League’s worst bullpens.