“Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?”
That’s how the famed, heartbreaking Eagles song opens, and it’s an accurate question for the Red Sox, who continue to attempt to cover bullet wounds with bandaids, and pray they heal on their own while Dave Dombrowski buries his head in the sand and Alex Cora pretends this team still has a shot at the World Series, let alone a Wild Card spot.
After two back-to-back confusing and embarrassing London losses to the Yankees, Cora said that he would be spending his Monday off working on how to fix this team. But it’s like watching someone who is really bad at Tetris play it over and over again, and the blocks are just a pile of losses that keep getting higher.
And now, their latest attempt at a quick-fix will be to use Nathan Eovaldi as their closer when – or really if – he returns from the Injured List. This change likely guarantees that the team’s resident PEDs-using Domestic Abuser Steven Wright will be moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation. It’s their most desperate move yet.
It’s almost comical, since just last week, ahead of Wright rejoining the team, Dombrowski was depicting him as the savior of the bullpen. Comical in that “I’m losing my mind and descending into madness” kind of way, anyway. But after the London series, it’s somehow even more clear that Steven Wright cannot magically save this bullpen. Anyone who thought he could should head on over to Mass General for a brain scan.
So, the only knuckleballer in baseball will likely be the team’s fifth starter. Wright has started 44 career games as a starter, with a 4.00 ERA over 263 innings. In 34 career games as a reliever, his 3.06 ERA over 82.1 innings is markedly better, though obviously, a smaller sample size. Me, I always remember that start against the Mariners last June, when he gave up not one, but two 3-run homers to Nelson Cruz in a span of about four innings. But nothing says giving a team that desperately needs some consistency a larger role for the only pitcher in MLB who throws the most inconsistent kind of pitch in the game!
Best-case scenario, Nathan Eovaldi will be the ace in a bullpen that resembles a flaming dumpster. Of course, even that possibility hinges on him making a healthy and timely recover and actually being able to pitch. None of that is guaranteed.
But moving Nasty Nate to the bullpen is problematic for so many reasons. Cora never intended to use him in any kind of relief role; up until very recently, he maintained that Eovaldi would return to the starting rotation. He’s making starting pitcher money, for one thing. And they desperately need him: five pitchers have combined to fill the open spot in the Sox rotation, and in twelve starts, they went 2-7 with a 6.57 ERA. After being traded to the Sox last summer, he went 3-3 with a 3.33 ERA over 12 games, 11 of which were starts.
Closing and relieving are also not really roles Eovaldi has ever really filled. He’s started 152 career games, but only ever pitched in 8 games as a reliever, and he has never gotten a save. His ERAs in both categories are slightly higher than Wright’s, 4.22 as a starter and 3.21 out of the pen, but it’s more the bullpen experience or lack thereof, that’s concerning. Matt Barnes had just 2 career saves before this season, and he currently owns 6 of the Red Sox’s AL-most 17 blown saves this year. Just last week, I wrote that Wright, while definitely not the saving grace of the bullpen, has strong career numbers in certain situations. Brandon Workman has a 0.00 ERA in five 9th inning appearances this season, yet Cora always seems to turn to Barnes.
Eovaldi also openly said when he re-signed this winter, “a lot of teams… wanted me to be a closer. I view myself as a starter, and that’s something I’ve always done my entire career.“ Can he pitch in relief? Likely better than every other pitcher in that pen combined. Is this change fair to him and, more importantly, safe for his arm? Doubtful. Nasty Nate has come back from not one, but two Tommy John surgeries, and has had “floating bodies” surgically removed from his elbow two seasons in a row now. Instead of having to pitch once a week, he’d be the only guy Cora ever can bear to use in any remotely stressful situation, and apparently, Cora considers 6-1 games to be “close games” now.
Nathan Eovaldi is a warrior. His determination and ferocity in October were a driving force behind this team winning the World Series. He inspired his teammates, even bringing Rick Porcello to tears. After pitching most of the night in the longest game in postseason history, he was begging Cora to let him pitch the following night. He warmed up in the bullpen in the final game. Nathan Eovaldi will kill himself for this team, but he shouldn’t, because they don’t deserve a martyr. More importantly, he shouldn’t have to.
John Henry has said that he doesn’t plan on spending on top of the existing payroll. Which, on the one hand, makes sense, because this team should be doing so much better. But on the other hand, the bullpen was bad last year, too, they were simply masked and carried by the dominance of the starting pitching and the offense. But the problems were there, and now they are magnified and on display thanks to the departure of Kimbrel, and the regression of the starters and bats to the mean. This wasn’t some overnight implosion, either; Dombrowski, Cora, and even Henry were and continue to be cocky. It will cost them this season and probably their reputations, because this “defending champion” Boston Red Sox team is a laughingstock.
It’s July. The Sox are 11 games out of first. They can barely stay above .500 at Fenway. It would be great if Wright and Nate excelled in these roles, but it’s unlikely, even more unlikely that it could make a dramatic impact. Any magic this team had last year is gone, and I’m exhausted from pretending and hoping otherwise.