BOSTON — Can the Boston Red Sox win a world championship with this kind of bullpen?

We see a pen that is springing leaks. The latest gash is the loss of Steven Wright, the knuckleball pitcher with a 0.66 ERA in 10 relief appearances in September. Wright experienced soreness in his troubled left knee hours before the American League Division Series opener versus the New York Yankees.

To replace him on the playoff roster, the Red Sox added Heath Hembree on Saturday. This is the same Hembree that has allowed 10 earned runs (five homers) over his last 14 innings; the same Hembree that Boston Manager Alex Cora spoke of Friday afternoon: “He wasn’t keeping the ball in the ballpark. … He struggled with his slider, his off-speed pitches, and he paid the price.”

Sounds like a pitcher Cora will be confident to call on.

Cora is more likely to go to a starter, like he did Friday night with Rick Porcello in the eighth.

“It’s a short series,” Cora said. “Whenever you have a chance to win a ballgame, you’re all in, and you use all your weapons.”


Chris Sale is ready.

“Just take it day by day, honestly,” Sale said. “And whether they want me to start or be in the bullpen, like I said, it’s all hands on deck.”

Beside using starters in relief, Cora expects his relief pitchers to be available for each game – he mentioned Brandon Morrow’s 14 playoff appearances for the Dodgers last year – and for more than one inning, if needed.

“The difference between the playoffs and the regular season … you have the off day and they can reset,” Cora said.

The question is: how many of these relievers can be effective for one inning, let alone multiple frames?

On Friday, Sale had a good start, but a brief one (51/3 innings). Ryan Brasier and Brandon Workman could get only one out apiece. Matt Barnes had a solid inning, although he began it with a walk to load the bases.


Friday would have been a perfect time for Wright. But about three hours before the game, Cora found out about Wright’s sore knee.

“He was throwing the ball well,” Cora said. “All of a sudden, Game 1, he wasn’t available. You have to kind of improvise out there.”

The choice of Hembree as a replacement is interesting, when others like Hector Velazquez or Brian Johnson could provide multiple innings. Cora is thinking match-ups.

“We know how we’re going to use him,” Cora said of Hembree. “He lost his slider, the feel for it … His fastball is a good one … still 97, 98. I think with a team like (the Yankees), you have to attack them in different ways. (Hembree) gives you another look.”

But are there enough looks to get the Red Sox successfully through the playoffs?

“I know it looks like we’re short, but we don’t feel that way. We feel with the 11 guys we have, we’re covered,” Cora said.


To back up his pitching, Cora is emphasizing defense. It is why Sandy Leon is catching and Eduardo Nunez is playing third base over power hitter Rafael Devers.

On Friday, Leon blocked at least seven balls in the dirt with runners on base, while squeezing what he could out of the staff.

“Sandy being behind that plate, blocking balls in the dirt, calming us down,” Sale said, “I mean, we put him through the ringer (Friday).”

As for Nunez, he does not have the power of Devers. But Cora likes the glove.

“We know the potential of (Devers),” Cora said. “And although we feel good about Rafi with his range and everything, throughout the season, he wasn’t consistent making the routine play.

“We feel (Nunez) is the better defensive player.”


In a short series, an error or two could mean so much. Every time Cora is asked about his pitchers and defense, his mantra is the same: “It’s all about getting outs.”

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @ClearTheBases

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