Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: Bullpen becomes land of questions
BOSTON -- As Monday night turned into Tuesday morning, the home clubhouse at Fenway Park was happy. The fight had taken nearly five hours, and was at different stages quite frustrating, but the Red Sox had managed to snap a three-game losing skid by outlasting the Twins in 11 innings. Rap music blaring in the background, the players spoke proudly of what that win said about them. They were pleased.
Except for Joel Hanrahan. He was the reason for extra innings, having yielded a game-tying homer in the ninth - but his spirit wasn't broken by the gopher ball as much as it was the arm injury that forced him from the game. Standing there, his mouth said it was forearm tightness; his body language and blank expression both said it was something more serious.
Three days later, the truth was proven to live in his downtrodden disposition. After undergoing an MRI on Wednesday, Hanrahan will visit renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews today, but before even considering the recommendations of that consultation, the Sox on Thursday moved the right-handed reliever to the 60-day disabled list. They added Jose De La Torre to the major-league roster.
And they sought a split of a four-game series against the Twins with their bullpen - once thought a strength - in a state of chaos.
"Not knowing the extent or total number of days, we felt it was still going to require some recovery time," Manager John Farrell explained before Thursday's game. "Then, when you factor in the build-up back from that, it felt like it was going to be a couple of months total at a minimum."
In sending Hanrahan to see Andrews, the Sox are trying to determine if a ligament in his elbow has also been compromised in addition to the flexor tendon injury that their doctors detected on initial examination. Depending upon what they find, Hanrahan could need Tommy John surgery, another arm surgery, or merely rest and rehabilitation.
In any case, though, the earliest he'll pitch again is around the time of the All-Star break, so the more pressing concern for the Sox' front office and coaching staff is determining how to get the most from the corps of relievers who are still here, and how to make sure the roster is equipped sufficiently enough that Farrell can effectively manage the key moments in games.
At the start of the year, that all seemed so simple. Hanrahan was brought in from Pittsburgh to be Boston's closer. Andrew Bailey, a two-time All-Star in Oakland, would pitch the eighth inning. Junichi Tazawa would handle the high-leverage situations that arose before then. So would veteran strike-thrower Koji Uehara, while lanky southpaw Andrew Miller would take on lefties as the situation dictated. Power arms abounded.
Now, however, Hanrahan's done, maybe forever as far as his Red Sox career is concerned. Bailey had won the closer's job from him, but he's now on the 15-day DL with an ailing biceps, and after beginning his throwing program Thursday he didn't commit to saying he'd return when eligible next Tuesday.
In the interim, Tazawa has taken over the closing duties, but he's never held that responsibility before, so it's unknown how a 1.93 earned run average and .168 batting average since the start of last September will translate to this new role. Some can make the transition; others can't.
The role change is significant, too, for Uehara - not in terms of which innings he pitches, but certainly in the number of innings he does. He's 38 years old, and when the year began, the club said it would try to avoid using him on consecutive days - but already they've done so three times, and the ranks have thinned to the point it could henceforth happen frequently.
Thankfully, Andrew Miller has been good since (coincidentally or not) he cut his hair and beard, letting only four of 21 batters reach base, while striking out 11, over the eight appearances that led into Thursday. But Boston will need more than that.
It will need Craig Breslow to hurry his recovery and become the dependable veteran he's supposed to be. It will likely need more from classic middle man Clayton Mortensen. And it may even need both Alex Wilson and De La Torre to pitch meaningful innings.
Wilson has a 1.54 ERA in his first 10 big-league appearances, though all but one has come with the Sox trailing or leading by at least four runs. De La Torre earned his promotion by allowing only five hits and 10 walks in 17 1/3 innings at Pawtucket - but he's 27 and Thursday was his first day in the majors.
So what once seemed so well-arranged has suddenly become a giant experiment for the Sox - and such uncertainty could be dangerous. In losing five of six, Boston's flaws began to surface, the Sox were reminded of their slim margin for error, and Baltimore pulled even in the East.
Simply put, the Sox can't afford to give away games the offense and starting pitching has set them up to win. The division is too tight, and the team isn't talented enough to survive many of those. They need to figure out who fits where among the relievers, how to make it work, and do it fast. There's urgency if they want to sustain the level of expectations they reset with their terrific opening month.
"Regardless of the injuries that we're dealing with right now, our expectation and our level of play shouldn't be compromised by that," Farrell told reporters. "That's the expectation here, to go out every night, to prepare and put a game together to win."
Problem is, as far as the bullpen is concerned, it's hard to really have expectations when you have no idea what to expect.
Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is email@example.com.