Even with a fairly full bullpen, Red Sox
manager John Farrell had stated that it would be nice to get one more answer against right-handed hitters.
Friday, he got his wish.
After watching Alexi Ogando’s workout in Tampa, and the days leading up to the well-attended event, the Red Sox (and Farrell, who didn’t attend but watched video of the exercise) came away confident enough to lock up the rigthy to a one-year, $1.5 million deal with incentives.
“The expectation is to have a right-handed reliever who has had a lot of success late in the game, particularly against right-handed hitters,” Farrell said by phone Saturday afternoon. “He complements the other right-handers we have in our bullpen with that hard slider he has. The contrast of style and experience, adds to a very good group.
“He showed good arm strength. He was 93-94 mph in the bullpen. I thought what was equally important to the one outing was the work he had a couple of days prior, with some aggressive long-toss to nearly out 200 feet with a light bullpen and then the bullpen teams saw. At least there was some indication for the recovery rate with as aggressive as the work day was, showing the power that he did. Then with the physical that we put him through, we feel like he’s in a good place physically.”
Ogando, who struggled with elbow issues in 2014, has a history of using a wipeout slider to dominate right-handed hitters. In 2012, when he made the American League All-Star team as a reliever, the hurler held righty hitters to just a .179 batting average and .598 OPS.
But Ogando’s effectiveness diminished over the past two seasons thanks to shoulder and elbow ailments, taking away the bite on his slider and velocity on what had been an upper-90’s fastball.
But after watching Ogando’s recent workouts, putting him through a physical, and talking to the pitcher about his offseason workouts, the Red Sox don’t feel the 31-year-old will have to be babied throughout the early portion of spring training.
“In meeting with him yesterday, he feels like he’ll throw a normal number of bullpens prior to coming to camp. But we’re aware of what took place the last couple of years,” Farrell said. “So we he will start with all of his pitchers. It’s not like he comes in with special needs. But if we feel it’s best to give him an added day of rest now and then, we can certainly work that in.”
Another potential answer against righty hitters is newly-acquired Robbie Ross, who came over from Texas in a trade for Anthony Ranaudo. While Ross struggled in 2014, the Red Sox feel a full-time return to the bullpen (he started ’14 in the Rangers’ rotation) will do a world of good.
“One, we’re going to put him back in the bullpen with his stuff having the chance to play up with better velocity and better late action,” Farrell said of the lefty. “His first two years in the big leagues speaks to that role very well. What allows him to get right-handers out is that he has such a late cutter that guys don’t see that he can jam a righty and then he can make them give up on a cutter back on the outside corner with the backdoor. We just feel like it’s a better role for him in shorter stints.
“When he was a starter facing lineups multiple times he tried to sink a little bit. His four-seam fastball naturally cuts so to try and throw a sinker kind of works against the way he’s built and not at the same quality as his normal four-seam or cutter. Provided both guys are healthy and regain some previous form, these guys are two guys who have pitched extremely well out of the bullpen.”
The Red Sox now have what would seem to be a full bullpen, with Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Edward Mujica, Craig Breslow, Anthony Varvaro, Ogando and Ross seemingly having locked in spots. If there is a wild card to make the group, however, it might be Brandon Workman, whom Farrell confirmed will start spring training as a reliever. Matt Barnes, however, is going to be groomed as a starter despite spending time in a relief role as a major leaguer at the end of ’14.
“I met with Brandon at Winter Weekend (last weekend in Foxwoods) and let him know to think along the lines of coming in as a reliever and that’s where we see him,” the manager explained.