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Resurgent 'pen dominating in stretch run

After tough summer, relievers stepping up in September
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

BOSTON -- Despite a 6-3 loss to the Orioles on Tuesday night, an encouraging trend continued for the Red Sox.

Remember how Boston's bullpen had such a hard time maintaining any consistency in July and August? The story has changed in dramatic fashion thus far in September, as manager John Farrell can now turn assuredly to his relievers.

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BOSTON -- Despite a 6-3 loss to the Orioles on Tuesday night, an encouraging trend continued for the Red Sox.

Remember how Boston's bullpen had such a hard time maintaining any consistency in July and August? The story has changed in dramatic fashion thus far in September, as manager John Farrell can now turn assuredly to his relievers.

View Full Game Coverage

This month, the bullpen leads the Major Leagues with a 0.94 ERA, allowing three earned runs over 28 2/3 innings.

There have been various factors to the resurgence, including the return from injury of Koji Uehara, the recall of Joe Kelly from Triple-A Pawtucket and the recovery of Brad Ziegler, who was quarantined for nearly a week with the flu.

Thanks in large part to the rejuvenation of the bullpen, the Red Sox hold a two-game lead in the American League East over Toronto and Baltimore with 18 games left.

The one common thread with almost every team that has made a prolonged run in the postseason in recent years is a strong bullpen, which is so vital that Boston's 'pen is finally finding its footing.

Down, 5-0, in just the second inning after a shaky start by Drew Pomeranz, the bullpen kept the Sox in this one throughout, giving up one run over seven innings.

Video: BAL@BOS: Farrell discusses Kelly's bullpen outings

"They've come in and done their job," said Farrell. "The fact that you can add a couple of arms, you can rotate some people through, they're getting proper rest, that helps. They've kept us in the ballgame. Tonight, an outstanding job on their part. One run in seven innings pitched, they gave us an opportunity to get back in this one."

A similar script unfolded Sunday afternoon in Toronto, when Clay Buchholz gave up six runs over three innings, but the bullpen was nearly untouched for the rest of a day in which the Red Sox came back for an important 11-8 win.

Kelly opened the year in the rotation and struggled, leading to his option to Pawtucket at the beginning of June. Just before the All-Star break, the Red Sox decided his power arm might be a bigger benefit in relief.

After producing dazzling results for Pawtucket, Kelly has thrived since his September return, firing six shutout innings over five outings while walking two and striking out nine. He provided two strong innings on Tuesday.

"You love the fact that he's got multi-inning capability. You're not really concerned right-left with the power he's demonstrating," Farrell said. "I think he's doing a very good job in keeping the ball in the lane that he's intending to go, and that's probably the biggest thing with Joe. He's thrown some breaking balls to put some hitters away with, but I think he looks extremely comfortable coming out of the bullpen."

Uehara, a trusted reliever in Boston for the last four seasons, hasn't been scored on in his first three outings since returning from a right pectoral strain.

Lefty Robbie Ross Jr. has been underrated all season and nearly untouched against lefties, holding them to a .484 OPS.

Closer Craig Kimbrel has a 0.73 ERA since returning from left knee surgery on Aug. 1.

"They've been solid. Those guys feed off each other," said Red Sox catcher Ryan Hanigan.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Robbie Ross Jr., Joe Kelly, Koji Uehara