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August 09. 2013 12:24AM

Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: Bullpen auditions are under way


Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz (34) congratulates shortstop Stephen Drew (7) on hitting the game winning three-run home run against the Houston Astros during the ninth inning at Minute Maid Park. The Red Sox won 7-5. (Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY Sports)

WHEN John Farrell opted to put an end to the Steven Wright experiment after just an inning Tuesday night, and he summoned Brandon Workman from the bullpen, the Red Sox manager did so hoping the 24-year-old right-hander would show more of what he'd displayed in a sequence of encouraging appearances last month.

He didn't. Workman quickly surrendered a two-run homer and yielded six runs and 11 baserunners over 4 1/3 innings. When Boston's trade for Jake Peavy bumped him from the rotation, some anticipated Workman's power arm and presence would plug nicely into the bullpen. This latest outing probably gave pause to that notion.

But Tuesday's trial — and, in this case, error — was nevertheless a reminder that, for the next seven weeks, when Farrell summons a pitcher from the bullpen he will be auditioning.

There appear to be at least 15 guys in the mix for six or seven bullpen spots come October, and they fit into five categories.

The sure things: Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow. As the closer and his go-to setup man, Uehara and Tazawa might be the only relievers whose use falls into a pattern, suggesting Farrell has an understanding and comfort level with them. Breslow, meanwhile, pitched in 39 of the team's first 83 games after returning from injury.

The starters: Workman, Wright and Ryan Dempster. It's unlikely the Sox will give up on Workman. Wright, on the other hand, might be out of the mix in part because his knuckleball is too unpredictable. But Dempster is intriguing. He was a closer, and though he hasn't done it since 2007, he's a veteran with a knack for getting strikeouts.

The injured: Alex Wilson, Franklin Morales and Matt Thornton. Wilson pitched well as a big-league rookie until a thumb injury sent him to the disabled list. Thornton was placed on the disabled list Wednesday with an oblique strain, but his long-term status could have a big say in how much Morales contributes moving forward. Having held lefties to a .196 average over his career, Morales could fill the left-handed specialist role.

The inexperienced: Drake Britton, Rubby De La Rosa and Pedro Beato. It took until his eighth major league appearance for opponents to score a run against Britton. He's exciting, as is De La Rosa. The question with him is whether he can harness his electric stuff to reliably throw strikes.

The major-leaguers in the minors: Ryan Rowland-Smith, Clayton Mortensen and Jose Contreras. Contreras, 41, struck out 13 over his first seven innings with the PawSox, though he allowed seven runs, so he is a long shot. Mortensen has been average at Triple-A since Boston designated him for assignment. But Rowland-Smith is one to watch. The 30-year-old lefty has an earned run average of 1.54.

What will the bullpen look like by Oct. 1? Here's one guess: Uehara, Tazawa, Breslow, Dempster, Thornton, Workman, De La Rosa.

That's five righties and two lefties, though Britton could easily be swapped for De La Rosa if Farrell desires another lefty. The only thing for certain is that there are a lot of options, and that the Red Sox are likely to explore all over the coming weeks.

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Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is ddonof13@gmail.com.


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