The revamping of the Red Sox bullpen has just begun


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The Red Sox have started to turn over their bullpen.

After Sunday's 12-4 loss the Rays - putting Alex Cora's crew seven games out of a Wild Card spot - the Red Sox designated both Austin Davis and Hirokazu Sawamura for assignment.

Davis and Sawamura each had runs of effectiveness at some point during the last two seasons, but had taken turns for the worse of late, with the pair giving up a combined seven runs over two innings in the latest defeat.

In their place will be one reliever who has already gotten a taste of the big leagues this season, Kaleb Ort, and another who will be introduced to the majors for the first time, Zack Kelly.

The 27-year-old Kelly's emergence offers particular intrigue considering his success with Triple-A Worcester this season, along with a feel-good story leading up to the opportunity.

After signing with the Athletics as an undrafted free agent out of Div. 2 Newberry College, Kelly was released twice before signing with the Red Sox on Dec. 19, 2020.

In 44 appearances with the WooSox this season, the ground ball specialist has 2.72 ERA, striking out 72 and walking 25 in 49 2/3 innings. In short, the hope is the Red Sox have found another John Schreiber.

But, make no mistake about it, the Red Sox revamping of their bullpen has just begun.

This is a bullpen that has the fourth-worst ERA in Major League Baseball, having surrendered the seventh-most hits and fourth-most walks. And, of course, only three teams have more blown saves than the Sox.

If Kelly or Ort clicks, great. The questions and answers with this group stretch well beyond those two.

The beginning of the conversation has to involve what will become of Garrett Whitlock, who continues to the Red Sox' be-all, end-all weapon out of the bullpen. And while it was determined more than a month ago the righty wouldn't be leaving the bullpen in 2022, the initial plan was to give him a chance at the starting rotation in 2023.

Now, with the Red Sox' desperation for some certainty heading into next season, it will be interesting if Chaim Bloom and Co. deviate from the original Whitlock plan.

Tanner Houck would seem to be the other late-inning option heading into 2023, although the righty would also likely want another crack at starting. Yet, with the rotation already filling up with the likes of Chris Sale, Nick Pivetta, Brayan Bello, and potentially Kutter Crawford, Josh Winckowski and one of veteran free agents-to-be, Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Wacha, fortifying the thinned out reliever corps would seem like the priority.

Bryan Mata, who has just been promoted to Triple-A Worcester and is on the 40-man roster, also offers an interesting piece of this conversation, although with just 14 appearances under his belt this season after coming back from Tommy John surgery, there might be a desire to ease into 2023.

There are a few more interesting hurlers on the major league horizon, such as Brandon Walter, Chris Murphy, Thaddeus Ward and Frank German. (All four need to be put on the 40-man roster this offseason in order to avoid becoming eligible for the Rule 5 Draft.)

At this point, however, it would seem the Red Sox might want to be paying a bit more for certainty to complement these maybes.

Free agents range from the crazy expensive (Edwin Diaz), to the moderately pricey (Taylor Rogers) to the pay-a-bit-more-than-you-might-want-for-the-veteran-presence (David Robertson).

And then there is the most likely path the Red Sox will take - trades. Few, if any, projected Adam Ottavino going from the Yankees to the Sox on the way to becoming a seventh-, eighth- and ninth-inning option.

Both different faces and a different approach is needed when it comes to the 2023 Red Sox bullpen. This has to be one Bloom's largest lessons of all.

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