Posted on July 2, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
It’s been a while since Nathan Eovaldi took the mound for the Boston Red Sox. When Eovaldi eventually returns from an injury that has kept him sidelined most of the season, he’ll do so in a different role. According to reports, the Red Sox plan to make Eovaldi their closer when he’s ready to return from the Injured List, hoping that he can help fix a problematic bullpen.
After signing a four-year deal to remain in Boston over the offseason, Eovaldi has made just four starts this season. In April, he underwent surgery to remove some loose bodies from his elbow. Eovaldi suffered a setback in his recovery last month, so his timeline for a return remains up in the air. However, the team expects him back before the end of the season, and when he does return, he’ll be inserted into the bullpen as the full-time closer.
Part of the thinking by the Red Sox is that a move to the bullpen is the best way to get Eovaldi back sooner. He’s already missed more than two full months and could end up missing over half the season when all is said and done. But if he returns as a reliever, it will expedite his minor league rehab. He won’t need to be stretched out like a starter or wait four days between appearances. If he returns as a reliever, Eovaldi may only need a week or so of minor league rehab games to be ready to return to Boston.
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Of course, the bigger motivation for the move is helping fix a troubled bullpen. The Red Sox didn’t sign a traditional closer over the winter and have employed a closer-by-committee setup this year. Five different pitches have recorded saves for the Red Sox with Ryan Brasier leading the team with seven. Moreover, Boston’s bullpen is middle of the pack in the American League and was a disaster during the second half of June, blowing eight saves in June, more than any American League team.
Outside of Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree, no one in Boston’s bullpen has had a particularly good season. Without a full-time closer, roles have been largely undefined and it’s been difficult for the team’s relievers to settle in and feel comfortable. Outside of trading for an experienced closer, which doesn’t seem to be an option the Red Sox are pursuing right now, installing Eovaldi as the closer may be their best option for getting the bullpen on track heading down the stretch.
Obviously, there is some risk in making Eovaldi the closer. He has just eight career relief appearances in addition to the four he made during last year’s postseason when he fared well in the role. That being said, the Phillies pursued him as a reliever during the offseason before Eovaldi decided to return to the Red Sox as a starter. In any event, it will be a new role for Eovaldi, It also leaves a vacancy in Boston’s rotation. The Red Sox have used a handful of different pitchers but haven’t found a permanent solution for the no. 5 spot in their rotation.
In the end, if the Red Sox are unwilling to trade for a closer, Eovaldi may be their best chance of solving their bullpen problems. Boston is currently two games out of a Wild Card spot and needs to leapfrog three teams to get there. Right now, their bullpen is holding them back and needs to be fixed. While there’s no guarantee of success, moving Eovaldi to the closer’s role upon his return from injury could be the move that helps get the Red Sox back to the playoffs.