OAKLAND -- "Closer by committee" is a three-word phrase that is commonplace in 2019, but one that brings back bad memories to die-hard Red Sox fans who followed the team 16 years ago.
But this is no longer 2003, and manager Alex Cora is confidently ready to give it another shot.
Welcome to life in the Boston bullpen after Craig Kimbrel, who remains a free agent but isn’t on the radar of the Red Sox at all.
Cora was busy playing for the Dodgers in 2003, so he doesn’t know why this didn’t work the last time the Red Sox gave it a shot. But he has a pretty good idea.
“I think stuff was different back in the day. I don’t remember who was involved but I guarantee you it wasn’t 95 with cutters and breaking balls the way guys have now,” said Cora. “If you take a look at bullpens now, stuff is at a premium. I think compared to before I played and when I played and now, that’s a big difference. You wanted to get to the bullpen. You wanted to get to the righty who threw 87, 88 with a sinker and a slider. Those are the guys you wanted to face.
“Now, if you want to face a bullpen, it’s 98, 99, spin out of the zone. I think today’s bullpens are much better than back in the day.”
Back in the day, the Sox tried to mix and match with Alan Embree, Mike Timlin, Chad Fox, Ramiro Mendoza, Brandon Lyon and others. By late May, Theo Epstein made a trade for Byung-Hyun Kim, who was installed as the closer on July 1 as the Sox said good bye to their short-lived committee.
This committee should have more lasting power, with Barnes and Brasier most often being utilized in the ninth. As the season evolves, Tyler Thornburg, Heath Hembree and Colten Brewer are others who could get chances at times to pitch the ninth.
When the Red Sox decided they weren’t bringing back Kimbrel, Cora almost immediately started to think about the committee approach, though he chose not to reveal his plans publicly until he started letting it play out in regular-season games.
“It’s going to give us more flexibility,” said Cora. “I wasn’t going to say how comfortable I was because you guys would crush me later on [if it didn’t work], but I do feel like stuff-wise what we added in the offseason and what we saw in Spring Training, it was good.
“Now we have the luxury of having Brasier and we have Barnes. As long as we communicate and they know coming into a series where they fit and how we’re going to use them, I don’t see a problem. So far, so good.”
Service time party
When the Red Sox brought out two cakes in the clubhouse before Thursday’s day game, the immediate thought was that it was someone’s birthday. Or perhaps the team was celebrating Blake Swihart’s 27th birthday a day late.
It turns out the cakes were in recognition of starting pitchers David Price and Rick Porcello for reaching 10 years of service time in the Major Leagues.
Price’s cake said “Happy tenure”.
Porcello’s cake humorously said “10.006” because he reached his service time anniversary six days ago.
Cora recalls Arizona interview
With the Red Sox headed to Phoenix for a weekend series against the D-backs that starts Friday, Cora reflected on the interview he had for Arizona’s vacant managerial job prior to the 2017 season. Torey Lovullo was the favorite all along, and wound up getting the job.
D-backs GM Mike Hazen told Cora that he needed to gain some on-field experience to become a manager.
“When I got home a few days later, Mike calls me,” said Cora. “And he’s like, ‘We’re going in a different direction. We feel like you need to gain experience.’ Jokingly, sarcastically, but actually being honest I said, ‘You thought I was going to gain experience from San Juan to Phoenix [for the interview]?’”
Cora did take the advice to heart, and wound up becoming the bench coach for the Astros. A couple of days after A.J. Hinch offered him that job, Lovullo offered him the same job with Arizona.
Why did he pick the Astros?
“I was like, ‘It’s the trendiest organization, sabermetrics, the way they do things, and the chance to win.’ It was right there with the Astros,” Cora said. “But Mike was the one that said just be on the field and things are going to happen quick. He was right.”