Juan Nieves Fired, Edward Mujica DFA’d

Juan Nieves

The Boston Red Sox looked a little bit different Friday night against the Toronto Blue Jays after a 3-6 homestand thanks to two moves the Red Sox announced Thursday.

The first move came of a little bit of a surprise as the team designated right-handed reliever Edward Mujica for assignment. The veteran had struggled with a blown save to go along with a 1-1 record and a 4.61 ERA so far this season. In 75 games with the Red Sox, Mujica owns a 4.06 ERA and just eight saves (all in the 2014 season.Juan Nieves

The 30-year-old was signed prior to the 2014 season for two years and $9.5 million, but he never lived up to his numbers with the St. Louis Cardinals the year before. He never really flourished in Boston and always seemed to give up those inopportune runs which made winnings games almost unattainable.

The team planned to make the move while in Toronto on Friday and Matt Barnes is likely going to be the bullpen arm the Red Sox need going forward. Barnes has appeared in 11 games for the Red Sox over the last two seasons and has allowed a total of four runs while striking out nine and walking two. This season he has struck out one and allowed two hits in two innings of work back on April 25.

In another pitching-related move, the team elected to let go of pitching coach Juan Nieves. The Red Sox rank second-to-last in the entire majors with a 4.86 ERA and are dead last in team ERA in the AL. The only team worse is the Colorado Rockies at 5.38.

With already 28 games in the books and a 13-15 record after a 9-5 start, Nieves showed that he did not have a handle on the pitching staff like he did when he was hired in 2013. The passive approach to pitching away to nearly every hitter was not the right approach as at least every pitcher in the starting staff has allowed four or more runs in a start at least once.

The list for pitching coach replacements is short, according to media reports after a John Farrell conference call on Thursday. The team is in the process of sorting everything out so, expect a new pitching coach sometime on the current 10-game road trip.

Red Sox Drop Fourth Straight; Hanley Ramirez Hurt

Hanley Ramirez hurt

Not only did the Red Sox lose for the fourth straight time last night, but even worse is the news that their best hitter, Hanley Ramirez, was hurt and left the game before he even had a chance to bat. The left fielder was injured when he slammed into a padded wall adjacent to the Green Monster while sprinting after a line drive in the first inning of a game they would eventually lose, 5-1, to the Tampa Bay Rays.

After the game, news spread that Ramirez had a sprained left shoulder, news that is not particularly encouraging given the fact that he has already had two operations on this Hanley Ramirez hurtshoulder in the past 8 years. How the team will fill this void appears to be a monumental task. Entering the game, Ramirez led the Sox in home runs with 10, RBIs with 22 and OPS at .949. His .283 batting average was fourth on the team.

Last night’s game came on the heels of being swept at home over the weekend by the New York Yankees. That marked the first time the Bronx Bombers have swept the Sox at Fenway Park since August of 2006, when they did it under Joe Torre.

Sunday night was not without the usual New York-Boston drama. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Yankees starter Adam Warren plunked Hanley Ramirez, and the Red Sox responded two innings later when Edward Mujica hit Jacoby Ellsbury with a 3-0 pitch after the center fielder had singled in each of his first four at-bats. Homeplate umpire Jeff Nelson then issued a warning to both benches as CC Sabathia waddled out of the Yankees’ third-base dugout to stare at Mujica, and the Yankees’ bullpen acted with false machismo as though they would enter the action if it escalated. (Why can’t bullpens just fight in the outfield?  Why bother running all the way to the infield?)

To provide some more depressing news, the last time the Red Sox have led in a game was in the fourth inning of Friday night’s game. Without the offense of Ramirez, they have an uphill climb in front of them.

Should The Red Sox Have Brought Back Andrew Miller?

Andrew Miller

There is no question last season the Red Sox were in sell mode and, with Andrew Miller set to be a free agent, the Red Sox wanted to get something of value for the pitcher who would command a lot on the open market. With the trade to the Orioles on July 31st, Andrew Miller stepped in and was a part of the Orioles team that won the American League East behind their lefty closer Zach Britton.

Fast forward to this past week at Fenway Park and Andrew Miller is now the closer of the division rival—first place Yankees.Andrew Miller Miller has been paired with Dellin Betances to form one of the more dominant 1-2 punches thus far in the major leagues when it comes to shutting down teams in the late innings.

The Red Sox acquired Eduardo Rodriguez from the Orioles in the Miller trade and he has looked great since coming over from Baltimore. Rodriguez started the year in AAA Pawtucket, but could prove to be valuable down the stretch should the Sox need a starter. With this pitching staff so far, we may be seeing Rodriguez sooner rather than later.

Obviously the Red Sox are happy they got Rodriguez for Miller, but could they have both of them? In the off-season Miller was being heavily pursued as a set-up man and closer for some teams; the Yankees, Red Sox, Astros and Orioles were all in the running. Miller turned down the Astros offer, who then signed Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson. The Orioles were cutting payroll so, Miller likely was not returning to the Orioles in the first place. The Yankees gave Miller $36 million over 4 years and the Red Sox were left in the dust. The thought of trading Lester and then re-signing him in the off-season was made into a huge deal, but re-signing Miller should have been a big deal, in my opinion, as well.

The biggest deal in this is that Miller is still only 29 so, he still has a while to pitch and pitch well. The Red Sox bullpen so far has been over used, but they have not been impressive either. Koji Uehara, who missed the first week, has seen his velocity go down substantially and Edward Mujica has been relegated to mop up duty. Junichi Tazawa, who has been the best pitcher on the staff as a whole, is still owned by the Blue Jays and, as we saw this weekend, Alex Rodriguez. The Red Sox bullpen would look a lot better with Andrew Miller in it.

Miller now is tied for the league lead in saves with 10, two of which he got this weekend at Fenway, with a whopping 23 strikeouts in 13 innings of work. The Red Sox are the team that moved Miller to the bullpen, which he became successful in doing after some struggling years as a starter. Why shouldn’t they be reaping the rewards with a decision they made? Instead he is on the team you hate to lose to and collecting up saves and strikeouts left and right.

Koji Uehara Makes His Return to the Sox

Koji Uehara

Coinciding with the home opener, Koji Uehara was activated from the disabled list on Monday, after being limited in Spring Training due to a hamstring injury. His first save opportunity came on Tuesday night against the Nationals and he did not disappoint.

In an 8-7 Sox win Uehara threw 14 pitches, 10 for strikes, as he was his usual efficient self on the mound while strikinng out two. A very loud foul ball was hit by Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, that went just foul down the left field line, so close to being fair the umpires reviewed it.Koji Uehara Fortunately for the Red Sox the call on the field was upheld and Uehara got Zimmerman to fly out to left field on the next pitch.

Uehara’s return signaled the end to Edward Mujica in the closer spot for the time being. Mujica gave up two solo home runs in his two appearances before Tuesday night. Mujica got the win Tuesday night after going 1 1/3 striking out two. It is still expected that John Farrell will call on Mujica when Uehara needs a day or two of rest, as fatigue could be a factor this season for him, so that is something to keep an eye on.

With Uehara’s return, Tommy Layne was sent down to Pawtucket where he will join Dana Eveland as a lefty in the bullpen. Craig Breslow and Robbie Ross Jr. remain the lefties out of the bullpen for the big league club.

The expectations for Koji Uehara this season are something Red Sox fans seem unsure of. Can he be the lights out closer like he was for the tail end of 2013 and early 2014? Or will he struggle like he did in the second half of last season? Seeing a clean inning from the closer is obviously a good sign, but for the Sox to feel confident in their bullpen, it starts with the closer. With some shaky starts from the rotation the past few days and that 19 inning contest from last week, the bullpen has been used quite often, so a healthy and effective Uehara will only help pitchers like Robbie Ross Jr. and Anthony Varvaro get acclimated to their roles on this club.

Brandon Workman Placed On DL

Brandon Workman

The plan for Brandon Workman this off-season was to focus on just relieving for the first time in his career. After being a starter for much of his time in the minor leagues, the Red Sox with many young starters coming up through the system felt relieving is the best fit for Workman, this time around. After struggling last season with velocity, early this spring his velocity was up a tick with shorter outings.

Before even throwing an official pitch this season Workman was diagnosed with a right elbow strain and was placed on the disabled list Saturday. Not exactly how Workman and the Red Sox pictured his season starting. Brandon WorkmanThe minor leagues have a disabled list of seven days, but it has not been announced how long Workman is expected to be out. Workman was one of the last cuts in a battle for the last two bullpen spots that eventually went to Robbie Ross Jr. and Tommy Layne, one of which will likely be sent to Pawtucket on Monday, with Koji Uehara likely being activated from the disabled list, in time for the home opener.

Workman’s experience in the 2013 playoffs had many thinking, myself included he could have been groomed as a potential closer. Heath Hembree and Zeke Spruill picked up saves in the PawSox first two games of the season in Lehigh Valley. With Workman on the disabled list look for those two to get their opportunities in the closer role for the PawSox.

Early injuries happen to many teams, as the Red Sox opened the season with Joe Kelly and Koji Uehara on the disabled list. You could say it had an effect on the bullpen already, as Edward Mujica blew his first save opportunity Friday night. Ironically, Steven Wright, who took Kelly’s initial roster spot got the win in the 19 inning marathon pitching 5 innings in relief. As the Red Sox get their closer back for the home opener, a key component to the PawSox bullpen will be spending time on the shelf.

Koji Uehara Is a Question Mark This Season

koji uehara

One of the first moves the Red Sox made this off-season was resigning closer Koji Uehara before he hit the free agent market. He likely could have gotten more money if he hit the open market—after seeing the contracts that Andrew Miller, Luke Gregerson, and David Robertson received. Although all three of those pitchers are not entering their age 40 season.

Uehara will turn 40 on April 5th and whether he is on the roster the next day for OpeningKoji Uehara Day in Philadelphia remains to be seen. It was labeled as a “close call” just Wednesday after it was reported Uehara has suffered a hamstring strain. Hamstring strains for pitchers are not easy to recover from, as their legs are important—especially for Uehara who doesn’t hit the upper 90’s on the gun anymore. This is also not the first time he has suffered a strain of his hamstring, as he missed two months in 2010 while with the Orioles.

To replicate his great 2013 second half run many thought Uehara would have to drink from the fountain of youth. The first half of last season it seemed Uehara made a trip to that fountain, as he continued his great run earning a trip to the All-Star Game for the first time. As the Red Sox fell out of contention, Uehara became victim to the home run and was even shut down for a time. He arrived at spring training talking about how he suffered through an injury last season that may have effected his play, but did not disclose the injury. Now with a hamstring strain many Sox fans have to wonder: will he be on the roster in Philadelphia and, if he is on the roster, will he be effective?

In 3 games of Grapefruit League action, Uehara has given up 2 runs on 7 hits in just 3 innings of work. Some may say spring statistics do not matter, but it is always nice to see a pitcher give up less hits than innings pitched. The growing concern could be that Uehara is not recovered, thus resulting in poor performance on the mound. If the Sox want him to be an important piece across the season, he cannot be rushed back.

Closing option one with Uehara out is Edward Mujica, who had a tough first half last season in his first in the American League, but had a solid second half of the season. John Farrell has said he will be closer “B.” A pitcher to keep an eye on is Alexei Ogando, who the Red Sox brought in after being non-tendered by Texas. Ogando has been injured for much of the past two seasons, but has been better out of the bullpen in his career. He is a two pitch pitcher, featuring a live fastball and an above average slider. Junichi Tazawa seems to be best in a set-up role, so he might not get many save opportunities. The trickle down affect of this Uehara injury could open up a bullpen spot for either Brandon Workman or Matt Barnes to start the year. One thing is for certain, the starting rotation is not the only question mark going into the season as Koji Uehara has now been added to the list.