Believing in Brian Johnson

The old expression is “You gotta believe.” For pitcher Brian Johnson, believing he can assist the Red Sox in the bullpen is something for which he is responsible. Throughout his career, Johnson has gone through a roller coaster ride – from spot starts, to coming out of the bullpen for Boston. Looking for a greater role in 2019 will be interesting for Johnson.

On May 27th, 2017, Red Sox pitcher Brian Johnson did something that hasn’t been done in a Red Sox uniform since Pedro Martinez. Johnson pitched a complete game shut out against the Seattle Mariners. Where was I? Well, I was sitting in the bleachers, a few rows back from the bullpen, watching as Johnson threw strike after strike. The game lasted a little over two hours, which was remarkable.

For the guy who is like the underdog in the Red Sox organization, Johnson has been a constant presence in the Red Sox organization. For manager Alex Cora, relying on the veteran last season was key to the success this team had going into the postseason. Johnson had career highs in game appearances, as well as innings pitched.

From Starter to Reliever Back to Starter

Throughout his career in a Red Sox uniform, Johnson has been a spot starter for the Red Sox. In his 48 MLB appearances, only 19 of them have been starts. Johnson is 7-6 in his career, with a lifetime ERA of 4.69.

Following an injury to Clay Buchholz in 2015, Johnson was called up from Pawtucket, and made his MLB debut on July 21st of that season. He pitched in 4.1 innings in a loss to the Houston Astros. That game was the only one he would play in during the 2015 season, as he was sent back to Pawtucket.

The next time Johnson saw Major League action was in 2017. In that game, he pitched that remarkable shut out against the Seattle Mariners. Following that, he made four more starts for the Red Sox, going 2-0 with a 4.33 ERA.

In 2018, Cora used Brian Johnson quite a bit. He pitched in 38 games, while making 13 starts. Johnson went 4-5 with a 4.17 ERA last season, however, he was not added to the postseason roster.

Johnson, who is currently on the injured list, is part of the 2019 team. So far, he has pitched 4 games out of the bullpen, with all those games being on the road. On Opening Day at Fenway, Johnson was presented with his first championship ring. It was well earned too, due to the work he did during the 2018 season.

Can We Call Brian Johnson The Underdog?

For a guy whose career has been up and down, Johnson has been a consistent presence in the Red Sox organization. I think that he will continue to surprise us all when he runs out of the bullpen. Johnson has the ability to dominate in games. It’s just a matter of trust in his pitches.

Many might disagree when I say that Johnson is the secret weapon in the bullpen. However, when you look at what he has been able to accomplish and overcome in his life, he is truly one of the good guys.

Do Red Sox Actually Want Papelbon Back?

News of Jonathan Papelbon’s release from the Washington Nationals prompted rumors about a possible return to Boston. It only makes sense, especially since he helped the Red Sox win a World Series in 2007. The 35 year-old reliever spent the last few seasons in Philadelphia and Washington, but sometimes mentioned that he had a place in his heart for Boston. The question is, does Boston want Jonathan Papelbon back?papelbon back

Definitely.

According to the New York Post, Dave Dombrowski stated that it is “worth investigating” when asked about Papelbon’s possible return. It’s likely that Dombrowski and John Farrell want to bring Papelbon back to Boston. Farrell, however, is clear that Craig Kimbrel is still Boston’s closer. That doesn’t mean that Papelbon wouldn’t have a place in the Red Sox bullpen. Papelbon is a dominant relief pitcher. Boston needs more of that right now.

Consider this: Papelbon accumulated 19 saves with the Washington Nationals this season. That’s almost TWICE as many saves as the Red Sox bullpen has accumulated this season (when you take Craig Kimbrel out of the equation). So could Boston use Papelbon? Definitely!

While Papelbon is fondly remembered in Boston, Philly and Washington fans feel differently. In 2014, Papelbon grabbed a part of his anatomy and gestured toward a booing fan after blowing a save. While Papelbon denied it by saying he had to adjust himself, it wouldn’t be the last time he found trouble. Last year, Papelbon and Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper exchanged blows in the dugout after Harper flied out in the eighth. Papelbon apparently threw the first punch because he didn’t appreciate Harper’s failure to get on base. While both parties claimed to have resolved the issue afterwards, it left a bad taste in Nationals’ fans mouths, as well as that of the front office. So it came as little surprise when Papelbon requested, and received, a release from the Nationals.

It’s clear that Papelbon isn’t the pope. Ironically, my priest, Father Jim Gallagher, told me that Papelbon in Latin is “good pope.” So while his name might make for a good joke, his pitching is anything but. Since breaking into the majors in 2005, the six-time All-Star has accumulated 368 saves over twelve seasons. 219 of those saves were when he was in Boston. In fact, he currently ranks 3rd among active pitchers for all time saves, and 9th overall. Additionally, Papelbon is only 22 behind Hall of Fame reliever Dennis Eckersley. How great would it be to see Papelbon pass Eckersley wearing a Boston uniform?

Yes, Boston Does Want Jonathan Papelbon Back!

Philadelphia didn’t want Papelbon. Washington happily obliged him when he requested a release. Since leaving Boston, Papelbon has mentioned how much he loved being with the Red Sox. Dombrowski and Farrell are interested in him. Even David Ortiz wants him back! Before the Red Sox played the Orioles Wednesday night, Ortiz told ESPN Deportes, “I don’t know what happened there at the Nationals, but he was a great guy and we would welcome him back with open arms.” I don’t know about anyone else, but it looks like Papelbon’s return to Boston would be a great fit.

Junichi Tazawa Leads the Bullpen

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Being a reliever is quite the intense role in baseball. I know one of my co-writers recently posted an inspiring article about reliever, Koji Uehara, but for me, it’s Junichi Tazawa who stands out among the rest. Every time he walks to the mound there is a presence about him that screams, “I’m here to win”.   His ERA before Wednesday’s game was 0.93. That was coming from his tenth appearance on the field this season. Although I would like to see him as a starter in the continuing years, I am okay with John Farrell using the dominant reliever wisely. I just hate a stellar performance for only one inning.  Junichi Tazawa is one you could watch for hours on end and still stay struck with his talent.   It is Andrew Miller we have to be worried about. Andrew Bailey is another reliever we can count on with his star performance in Wednesday night’s game (three consecutive strike-outs) but still, Junichi Tazawa is untouchable.

Despite the Red Sox debacle in 2012, Tazawa was one of the positive developments on the team, in the bullpen.

“He was the best pitcher we had when the season ended,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “Taz was blowing people away.”

Although he was reluctant coming back from a torn ligament in his elbow, in 2010, Tazawa proved to himself as well as the other members of his team he was stronger and faster than ever.   That was 2011.  It is now 2013 and I see another strong starter in the near future, as he continues to progress and perform on the mound. For now, as the Boston Red Sox continue to prove they are the team they once were, I am glad to have at least one inning where I can sit back, and enjoy pure talent as Junichi Tazawa leads the team to victory.

Koji Uehara: the Unsung Hero of Spring Training

Koji Uehara

When talking about all of the additions that the Red Sox made over the off-season  you rarely hear a mention of Koji Uehara on that list.

You’ve got your Mike Napoli’s, your Stephen Drew’s, Joel Hanrahan’s and Ryan Dempster’s, but Uehara just might prove to be a major X-factor for the Red Sox this season. It was a very low-key move, triggered by general manager Ben Cherington, which could pay major dividends for Boston.

The Red Sox bullpen, if healthy, could end up being the most effective bullpen in all of baseball. With several names camped out in Fenway’s right field bullpen with closing experience, Uehara trumped all of them this spring. The right-hander logged 9.2 innings over 10 appearances without yielding a run, while punching out 12 batters and allowing just two walks.

Bill James has Uehara appearing in 40 games for Boston in 2013, and predicts a 2.25 ERA and 39 strikeouts over 49 innings, and just six walks. If Uehara comes even remotely close to James’ predictions, the Red Sox may have found their secret weapon.