Boston Red Sox bullpen delivering early-season quality innings

Apr 9, 2023; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Boston Red Sox catcher Connor Wong (12) and relief pitcher Kenley Jansen (74) celebrate after defeating the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 9, 2023; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Boston Red Sox catcher Connor Wong (12) and relief pitcher Kenley Jansen (74) celebrate after defeating the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

Nine games into the 2023 season, the Boston Red Sox are a bit all over the place in each area of the game.

Starting pitching wasn’t exactly on point the first turn through the rotation but was much better in round two. And the offense has roared, despite only scoring eight runs in three losses to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Red Sox bullpen has faced the same consistency issues but overall the relievers are limiting damage in providing quality innings.

Boston Red Sox bullpen settling down

Once, based on the way the game was played and strategies involved, seeing a bullpen throw 40.2 innings thru nine games might be cause for concern.

That’s not much the case these days, with the complete game by a starter a rarity. Red Sox starters yet to last past the fifth inning. This team has been built to withstand that but, since it’s early still, there’s hope they can be stretched out to the sixth inning and beyond as the season progresses.

For the time being, it’s nice to see the group of relievers respond after an abysmal Opening Day.

Logging extra work that day against the Orioles, 5.2 innings, the Red Sox bullpen allowed 9 hits, 5 earned runs, and walked five. Much of that damage was done against Ryan Brasier and Kaleb Ort. Combined, the two gave up six hits and all five runs.

Bouncing back in the next two games, both victories, the bullpen tossed 10 innings and allowed 11 innings. This group, however, allowed only three runs in those appearances.

Those performances carried over against the Pittsburgh Pirates, where in the first two games of the series the bullpen tossed nine innings, allowing only three hits and one earned run.

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Things have been a little up-and-down since, alternating between shutdown performances and a little shakiness. There were struggles in the finale against the Pirates (3 earned runs, including two allowed by Ort) and more Brasier struggles in the middle game of the sweep over the Tigers.

Brasier gave up two hits and three runs ( two earned) in that 14-5 victory. Despite struggles in two appearances, Brasier has had three other games in which he allowed only one hit in three innings of work.

He and Ort have drawn some of the early-season ire of some. And while criticism is fine, the two have given more good than bad so far in ’23. Good things, too, can be said about the rest of the Boston relief crew.

Individual standouts for Boston Red Sox

Having a closer, with a clear role to play, has already paid dividends for the Red Sox through nine games.

Kenley Jansen has had a hand in three of Boston’s five victories, picking up one win and two saves. Today’s save against the Tigers was harrowing, with Jansen allowing two hits. But he escaped by striking out two to send the Red Sox home with the victory.

Jansen is one of two relievers with a 0.00 ERA. Chris Martin has five appearances to his credit so far, allowing six hits without a run.

Three of the most-worked relievers so far for Boston, Josh Winckowski, Zack Kelly, and John Schreiber, are handling the pressure. The three have combined to throw 18.2 innings, allowing only three earned runs.

This trio, along with Martin, provide a nice road map to getting to Jansen in the ninth, whether it’s in long-relief or quick one-inning appearances.

Strikeouts for the bullpen aren’t quite off the charts but they are coming at the right times in games. Helping out is that the bullpen hasn’t allowed a home run yet this season.

The Boston relief corps is bound to get even better. With Garrett Whitlock set to make his first start of the season on Tuesday, some moves will be made. That could mean Kutter Crawford, who tossed a fine game and picked up the victory on Sunday, going to the bullpen. Or, Crawford could be sent down to be kept in “starter” mode.

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Even then, the impending arrival of Brayan Bello (and, further down the line, James Paxton) means, even if they remain healthy, a different makeup of the pen. But building that depth is excellent and much-needed as the season progresses. And if they can fine tune the few hiccups seen in the first weeks of the season, this Red Sox bullpen will be force that cannot be overlooked.