The Boston Red Sox need to find bullpen help, and they think Nathan Eovaldi can help get things in order.
Entering Tuesday’s action, the Boston Red Sox are eighth in the American League in bullpen ERA (4.37), with as many blown saves (17) as converted. They sure miss Craig Kimbrel, and turning to the trade market for help seems likely. But according to Tom Caron of NESN, Boston plans to use Nathan Eovaldi as their closer when he returns to action.
Eovaldi has not pitched since April 17 due to an elbow and bicep issue, and he had surgery on April 23 to remove loose bodies from his elbow. He was transferred from the 10-day IL to the 60-day IL on June 25, after a reported setback on June 9, but that move seemed to be mostly procedural to clear a spot on the roster. In four starts this season (21 innings), Eovaldi has a 6.00 ERA with a 6.9 K/9 and a 4.7 BB/9.
Eovaldi has made 152 of his 160 major league appearances as a starter, so a full-time relief role would be new to him. But he did work out of the bullpen for the Red Sox last postseason, and allowed just one run over 9.1 innings of relief work (four appearances).
Ryan Brasier (seven saves), Matt Barnes (four saves) and Brandon Workman (three saves) have multiple saves for Boston. But eight blown saves in June (three by Barnes, two by Marcus Walden) were an AL-high. Over final two weeks of June (h/t to Caron), the Red Sox bullpen posted a 6.18 ERA (second-worst in the AL over that span) and things came to a head against the Yankees last weekend in London (22 runs allowed over 12.2 relief innings).
Caron adds that Eovaldi will be installed as a traditional closer, rather than as part of a bullpen committee. Bringing him back in a bullpen role will also allow Boston to bring him back sooner, possibly right after the All-Star break, without having to stretch him out over a multi-start rehab assignment.
Pitching in shorter stints should also protect Eovaldi’s arm, if there are any lingering concerns attached to his elbow or bicep. He’s also had two Tommy John surgeries in his career, and before the Red Sox ponied up with a four-year, $68 million contract last December multiple teams may have been considering him as a closer.
Via FanGraphs, boiling it down to the simplest terms dating back to when Baseball Info Solutions first had the data in 2002, Eovaldi was unrivaled with his combination of high velocity and strike percentage in 2018. Writer Jeff Sullivan offered that has primary evidence Eovaldi would get paid handsomely, which of course happened.
Also via FanGraphs, Eovaldi threw three pitches (four-seam fastball, cutter and slider) at an above average level last year. His short sample this year is hard to take anything from, but in general it seems he would benefit from abandoning his curveball and splitter (or at least using them a good bit less). Pitching out of the bullpen would be a natural solution to streamlining his pitch mix.
The Red Sox seem reluctant to add outside bullpen help right now, or at least take on any kind of significant salary to acquire those upgrades as they try to least stay in the AL Wild Card race. So Eovaldi is in line for the first shot to lock down the ninth inning, assuming he returns to action as soon as he could.