The Red Sox dropped their third straight game against the Rays this evening, falling to 47-42 in the process. That puts them in a three-way tie with the Mariners and Blue Jays for the American League’s final two Wild Card spots (a game and a half back of Tampa Bay).
Despite the recent dip, Boston remains in the thick of playoff contention. They’ve spent the past few weeks down a handful of their top arms, but they’re expected to welcome a few pitchers back in the coming days. Jen McCaffrey of the Athletic tweets that Nathan Eovaldi, out for a little more than a month with back inflammation, is expected to take the ball Friday night against the Yankees. He’s likely to be joined on the staff by Garrett Whitlock, whom McCaffrey adds is also slated for a likely weekend reinstatement. Whitlock has missed a similar amount of time battling hip inflammation.
Eovaldi will step back into a starting rotation that has subsequently seen Rich Hill and Michael Wacha also land on the IL. Whitlock, on the other hand, is expected to transition back into a multi-inning relief role. An elite late-game arm during his rookie season, the righty has started nine of his 13 appearances this year. Club personnel have suggested in recent weeks they prefer Whitlock as a high-leverage stopper who’s capable of working multiple innings out of the bullpen. He’ll team with closer Tanner Houck and breakout righty John Schreiber among the top options for skipper Alex Cora in the later innings.
Matt Barnes was formerly in that mix, but he’s had a nightmarish past 12 months. A deserved All-Star in 2021 after an excellent first half, the right-hander struggled enough down the stretch to be scratched from the initial postseason roster. That continued for the first couple months of this year, as Barnes posted a 7.94 ERA with career-worst strikeout and walk numbers before being placed on the injured list on May 31 with shoulder inflammation.
Boston transferred Barnes from the 15-day to the 60-day IL prior to tonight’s game. The move created the necessary 40-man roster spot to reinstate catcher Kevin Plawecki from the COVID-19 list. That rules Barnes out for 60 days from his initial placement, meaning he won’t be eligible to return until the end of the month. The 32-year-old figures to be ready for reinstatement around that point, as he’s made a pair of rehab appearances in complex ball over the past few days.
The Sox could also be facing an absence for Matt Strahm, who suffered a left wrist contusion after being struck by a comebacker last night. Chris Cotillo of MassLive writes that the southpaw is listed as day-to-day after x-rays came back negative. That’s also true of second baseman Trevor Story, who has a right hand contusion after being hit with a pitch in the same contest. Story told reporters he’s hopeful he can avoid the injured list, but that’s dependent on how he heals over the next few days.
Boston is surely hopeful Strahm will be able to dodge the IL as well, as he’s been arguably the club’s top left-handed bullpen arm. Through 27 2/3 innings, he owns a 3.58 ERA. Strahm has punched out a strong 27.1% of batters faced against a tidy 5.9% walk rate. He figures to remain in a high-leverage position for the remainder of the season, but the impending free agent is hoping to expand his role next year.
Strahm recently told Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic he’s hoping to land a rotation opportunity on the open market. That’s not completely unfamiliar territory, as he was a starting pitching prospect throughout his minor league tenure. Strahm has made 25 starts in the big leagues, 16 of which came with the Padres in 2019.
The 30-year-old pointed out to Rosenthal that he has an atypically deep repertoire for a reliever, featuring five pitches. According to Statcast, he’s used each of his four-seam, slider, curveball and sinker at a greater than 10% clip this season. Strahm has also consistently avoided free passes in recent years, and he’s never been prone to dramatic platoon concerns. For his career, he’s been a bit more effective against right-handed hitters (.230/.296/.397) than lefties (.254/.326/.402). That trend has continued in 2022.
That combination could make Strahm a dark-horse rotation candidate for clubs this winter, similarly to the Angels giving Michael Lorenzen a rotation job after a few years of bullpen work in Cincinnati. In the interim, he figures to remain a key reliever (assuming health) as Boston jockeys for a playoff spot.