The guy who can help fix this Red Sox bullpen mess


When Heath Hembree went to the injured list June 14 it was viewed by many as just another mid-season inconvenience.

We've come to realize it is much more.

The reliever who spent much of the first month near the bottom of the Red Sox' bullpen depth chart has emerged as one of the most important pitchers on the pitching staff, and perhaps one of the most important players on the entire roster.

Hembree, who is likely to pitch in a rehab game Monday, represents a big fix for what continues to ail these Red Sox. It isn't a secret that a major cause for what is keeping the Sox in this muck of mediocrity is the overuse of their key relievers.

The Sox relief pitchers usually face about 32 high leverage situations in a month in the 8th + 9th + any extra innings. They faced 44 in May and 53 so far in June. It has not gone well.

— Red Sox Stats (@redsoxstats) June 23, 2019

This is where Hembree comes in. 

First off, the righty isn't worried about this physical bump in the road.

"It was nothing ever alarming," he told "It was more just I guess you could say muscle fatigue, tired. Not really firing. I’ve always had stuff pop up here and there. Shoulder a little achy. My hamstring is tight. Foot is sore. It’s always something. I’m used to pitching with some nicks and some soreness throughout the season but this was something that got my attention and it just needed a little bit of rest.

"It’s unfortunate. Obviously, you don’t want anything like this to happen but it’s a long season. It’s a grind. It happens."

The lack of concern is good news for the Red Sox, who view Hembree as a big solution for what is currently ailing them. He had been that good. Since April 29 (18 appearances) there weren't many better relievers in the majors with the 30-year-old boasting an 0.59 ERA and .115 batting average against.

As it turns out, he might just have become the right pitcher at the right time.

"My fastball is what got me here. I think sometimes it’s easy for me to forget that. I try and cat and mouse too much sometimes, which gets me in trouble. I look at it was as why get beat without my best weapon and my best weapon is my fastball," he explained. "When I first came up here I threw a lot of fastballs. I wasn’t getting a lot of swings and misses. I think the swings and misses now is the evolution of the launch angle. The swings have changed."

It's not as if Hembree is throwing his fastball any harder -- still living on an average at about 94 mph -- but he is relying on it a whole lot more. The reliever is offering his four-seamer 71 percent of the time compared to 55 percent a year ago. (Only 11 pitchers in baseball throw the fastball more.) There is also the lack of success against the pitch, which is inducing a .122 batting average against this time around compared to the .253 clip in 2018.

"It’s just a product as of recently that is something that has gone in my favor because of swing changes," Hembree said. "That could change next week. But as of now the launch angle and things like that have played in my favor. I’ve been focusing more in the top of the zone. I’ve always had a pretty lively fastball so I just throw it up there and take my chances, honestly."

It has worked. Now the Red Sox need it back.