Could Ryan Brasier end up being the Red Sox' closer? Sure. He's done it in minor leagues and certainly offered the potential to fill the role last season.
But when it comes to the righty reliever's true value, obsessing over the ninth inning might be a misstep.
Bullpens need guys who don't mind closing out the seventh, eighth or ninth at a moments notice. That is the way baseball is going. That's why Brasier is a key part of the Red Sox' equation.
"I go into every inning like it’s the ninth inning," Brasier said. "I’m trying to close out my inning. I really don’t look at it a whole lot different."
Brasier pitched six times in the sixth inning, making 15 appearances in the seventh and 11 as an eighth-inning guy. There were 18 plate appearances over five games in the ninth inning. That can start the conversation regarding his value. Listening to the reliever's take on versatility should truly paint the picture.
For so long the notion of anything resembling bullpen-by-committee was met with eye-rolling in large part because of the pitchers' stubbornness. Relievers like to know when they were pitching, and if that routine was thrown for a loop more than a few times than it became a thing.
Brasier doesn't subscribe to that stubbornness, and that's a good thing.
"I hate that," said Brasier of being told ahead of time what his role is going to be. "I don’t like to know when I’m throwing. If I know when I’m throwing I will start thinking about it in the second or third inning and I don’t like that. If I throw in the fifth I get up and start playing catch. If I throw in the ninth I get up and start playing catch. I’m just like that.
"A lot of guys like to know when they’re throwing and if you’re a closer you pretty much know when you’re going to throw. This may be a little different in terms of the mentality and how you get ready for a game."
The flexibility is being valued more than ever by many teams. The Dodgers told Joe Kelly they valued that trait when signing the former Red Sox reliever to a three-year deal. The Yankees' two free agent signings have shown similar pitching pliability, with Adam Ottavino and Zack Britton expected to mix and match with Delin Betances and Aroldis Chapman. And while David Robertson figures to get the brunt of save opportunities with the Phillies, don't be surprised if his splits include plenty of eighth- and maybe even seventh-inning appearances.
There is an argument to be had regarding if the ninth inning is dramatically different, and should be treated thusly. But for now it appears teams -- including the Red Sox -- are going to subscribe to Brasier's way of thinking. A late-inning reliever is exactly that, a pitcher who should be ready to pitch in the late innings ... any late inning.
"It depends on the pitcher," Brasier said. "You see a closer come in and some teams are really patient and others are really aggressive. I think it depends on the team, the score, the pitcher. All in all, it’s just another inning. It really is just another inning."