Cora masterfully maneuvers bullpen in win

April 20th, 2022

BOSTON -- The bullpen was something for Red Sox Nation to fret about heading into this season.

Not that Red Sox Nation needs all that much prompting to go into full-fret mode.

But the person who didn’t fret was manager Alex Cora, who calmly looked for solutions rather than the panic button.

And in a tense 2-1 win over the Blue Jays on Tuesday night at Fenway Park, Cora masterfully maneuvered his ‘pen for the final 13 outs.

Against one of the most potent offensive units in the game, Boston’s relief crew gave up one hit and no walks.

Through the first 11 games, Boston’s bullpen has a solid 3.17 ERA (tied for seventh in the American League) with 10.8 K’s per nine innings (third in MLB).

While the formula has changed from night to night, Cora has relied heavily on the four relievers (Garrett Whitlock, Hansel Robles, Matt Strahm and Jake Diekman) who pitched Tuesday.

Here is a look at how it is coming together.

Whitlock is the Swiss Army knife
It is always a guessing game when Cora will deploy his most talented reliever, Whitlock.

Typically, he calls on the power righty for bulk innings every three or four days.

But Tuesday, Whitlock was entrusted with a traditional three-out save opportunity for the first time this season.

“I took a chance with Whit,” said Cora. “It’s not the perfect situation. We’d like to stretch him out, but where we were in the game and the game that it was, I felt like going to him.”

For Whitlock, the save came three days after he got the last seven outs in a win over the Twins.

Not only did Whitlock display his typical arsenal of filthy pitches, but he got down and dirty, busting it to the first-base bag to dig out a feed from Bobby Dalbec. Whitlock came out of the sliding stop with a hole in his left pant leg.

When was the last time that happened?

“Probably high school, that’s for sure,” Whitlock said. “Yeah, I mean, Bobby made an amazing play, trying to get over there and cover bases and everything. Just glad we got the out. That was about as unathletic as I could ever look.”

Part of the reason Cora’s “Whitlock plan” is working so well is because Whitlock is so adaptable. Did he think he’d be getting a one-inning save in this one?

“I wasn’t sure, but, again, that’s why he’s the manager,” Whitlock said. “He does an amazing job. Shoot, you guys saw it. He knows exactly what he’s doing, so I always trust him.”

Robles has been overpowering
It was nearly an afterthought when the Red Sox re-signed veteran righty Robles to a Minor League contract that included an invitation to Spring Training on March 19. And it was even easier to forget that Robles could be a big piece of the puzzle when he didn’t report to camp for two weeks after that due to visa issues.

But here’s a little secret. Robles has not only been tremendous early this season, but his dazzling stretch goes back to Aug. 30, 2021.

The 31-year-old hasn’t given up a run in his last 19 regular-season outings, a stretch that includes a 0.70 WHIP, a .098 opponents average, 22 strikeouts and only seven walks. In Tuesday’s conquest, Robles gave Cora five outs.

“His stuff is really good,” said Cora. “It’s been really good for a while. His changeup is really good, the slider is good and the fastball is really good. He likes it here too, he says. He’s a guy that from afar, you see him and you're like, ‘That stuff should play at the big league level,’ and so far it’s playing here in Boston.”

The fiery Robles doesn’t dispute that Boston is bringing out the best in him.

“Yeah, there is a different taste to it,” Robles said. “There’s a different adrenaline when you go out there, so, yes, I always enjoy being out there here at Fenway with the fans and everybody. I really enjoy my time here.”

Those lefties
From the left side, new acquisitions Strahm and Diekman have both dazzled.

Strahm, who pitched in two smaller markets (Kansas City and San Diego) and dealt with a plethora of knee issues, is now healthy and coming of age. He also has some of the longest hair in the Major Leagues. Don’t look for him to cut it any time soon. Not with the way he’s been pitching.

The 35-year-old Diekman has over 10 seasons of service time and has pitched in pretty much every relief situation in his career.

“Their stuff is really good. Two guys that we recognized in the offseason that could help us,” Cora said. “Strahm, he’s unique. With the stuff he throws, if he pitches inside, he’s very aggressive. Diekman has been doing it a lot for a lot of years, and for really good teams. We want him to be aggressive in the zone, and so far he’s been great.”