When the Boston Red Sox signed Corey Kluber to a one-year, $10 million deal in December, they couldn’t have envisioned the two-time Cy Young winner would last just nine starts before being moved to the bullpen.

But that’s exactly what happened, with Manager Alex Cora announcing Wednesday that Kluber would join the relief corps this weekend ahead of Garrett Whitlock’s return from the injured list.

For the Red Sox, who have seven major league starters for five spots, it was simply a numbers game. One week after jettisoning the struggling Nick Pivetta to the bullpen to accommodate James Paxton, they chose to remove Kluber — who hasn’t pitched out of the bullpen since 2013 — over Tanner Houck, who has pitched admirably in multiple bullpen roles over the past two seasons.

Though Kluber has just five career relief appearances in 2018 big league outings and Houck owns a 2.68 ERA in 53 ⅔ relief innings over the past two seasons, the decision was based on merit, not familiarity. Houck has been the much better starter this season.

“There’s a lot of things that go into it, but ultimately we’re trying to use our players in an optimal way to win baseball games,” GM Brian O’Halloran said Wednesday at Hadlock Field. “Right now, we feel that this is the best way to win baseball games.

“Tanner has a history of pitching well in any role. He’s doing a good job in the rotation right now. We do see him as someone who can start long term. But ultimately this is about what gives us a the best chance to win as many games as possible in 2023.”


Kluber’s performance was certainly worthy of a short leash. In nine outings, he was 2-6 with a 6.26 ERA (29 earned runs in 41 2/3 innings), allowing 46 hits. His trademark command fell by the wayside as he issued almost as many walks in a month and a half (18) as he did all of last season (21 in 164 innings). The Sox are 3-6 in his starts, which have been largely noncompetitive.

The beginning of Kluber’s time in Boston has been especially disappointing because he was the team’s only notable rotation addition in a winter during which they lost Nathan Eovaldi and Rich Hill in free agency. The 37-year-old Kluber pitched pretty well (4.34 ERA, 3.57 FIP) in 31 starts for the Rays last year and the Red Sox believed there was something left in the tank when they signed him.

“We know the history,” O’Halloran said. “We know what he can do. Obviously, he’s had his struggles so far this year and ultimately we have to do what’s best for the team. Corey has been great about that as well and expect him to contribute out of the bullpen.

“I think a veteran guy like him and someone with as much success as he has had and the ability that he has, he could be one adjustment away from finding it and we expect that he will. But he’s struggled a bit with command and ultimately this is the decision for now and hopefully he can right the ship and contribute out of the pen.”

With Kluber and Pivetta joining Kutter Crawford and Josh Winckowski as multi-inning options in the bullpen, the Red Sox have a series of versatile options who can contribute in multiple roles. If one of the team’s starters were to get hurt, it’s likely the Sox would dip from the pool of those four righties to fill the rotation vacancy.

“We now have four guys in the bullpen that are in multi-inning roles that have capability of starting and have started and three of whom have started this year for us,” O’Halloran said. “That is definitely a possibility. It’ll depend on the timing and exactly where everybody is in terms of how stretched out they are. Ultimately, if you’re throwing two or three innings out of the bullpen, then you have a base underneath you. You can usually give a team four or five in a start. So that’s definitely a possibility. We’ll have multiple options if we do need a starter.”


For now, the Red Sox will move forward with a five-man rotation of Chris Sale, Whitlock, Houck, Brayan Bello and Paxton, beginning Friday.

“We had at least seven pitchers for five spots starting as we headed into spring training,” O’Halloran said. “We knew if everybody was healthy at different times, there were gonna be some tough calls and we just have to do what’s best for the team. The guys have been pros about it.

“In the end, we have to make the decision that’s best for the club and Corey’s a pro and totally understands that. And we think he’ll contribute out of the pen. Sometimes, you have to make tough decisions.”

ASSISTANT GM Eddie Romero remembers seeing Brainer Bonaci play for the first time in 2016 when the infielder was a 14-year-old amateur prospect in Venezuela.

Romero was scouting there with then-Red Sox global cross-checker Junior Vizcaino who now serves as Pirates director of international scouting.

“He was little,” Romero said about Bonaci who was approximately 140 pounds when he signed in ‘18. “Very, very little. … He was a good athlete. He was kind of strictly a shortstop back then. Really impressed by the arm strength and the accuracy of the arm. Very confident defender. And surprising pop for somebody that size from both sides.”


Boston inked Bonaci to a $290,000 bonus two years later on his 16th birthday, July 9, 2018.

The 20-year-old switch hitter, who generates most of his pop from the right side, has been the hottest hitter in Boston’s system since appearing in his first game this season for High-A Greenville on April 29. The start to his 2023 season got delayed because he hurt his finger while playing in the Dominican Republic.

He entered Tuesday batting .349 (22 for 63) with a .406 on-base percentage, .540 slugging percentage, .946 OPS, two homers, six doubles, seven runs and 14 RBI in 16 games.

Bonaci is now listed at 5-10, 164 pounds.

Baseball America ranks Bonaci the No. 16 prospect in the organization and noted that he showed “excellent plate discipline” in 2022 “but arguably lapsed into passivity while batting left-handed, where he hit .257/.413/.357 with a 20.5% walk rate. He hit .279/.330/.523 righthanded, showing more thump and a more aggressive approach from that side.”

INFIELDER YU CHANG had his rehab assignment pushed back to at least Friday after he felt some soreness after taking batting practice Monday. Cora also said infielder Christian Arroyo (right hamstring strain) is expected to start his rehab assignment this weekend.

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