This shouldn’t have been a surprise. Once you say “second opinion,” it automatically is safe to assume the first opinion wasn’t good. That was the case with Carson Smith.
Smith is undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow Tuesday, having first had an issue with the area during a March 21 spring training game. And while he came back May 3, the fact he couldn’t bounce back — making just three appearances before going back on the 15-day disabled list — was not a good sign.
(It was a concern he actually voiced to WEEI.com’s John Tomase last week.)
Smith said in spring training that he hadn’t experienced any elbow discomfort last season in Seattle. That being the case, it was still noteworthy that the reliever’s velocity dipped somewhat the final month of last season.
Yet while the velocity was down in September, it was hard to argue with Smith’s results, with the reliever not allowing a run over his 11 appearances, striking out 19 and walking just two.
It was enough for the Red Sox to allocate a fairly significant trade chip — Wade Miley — to acquire Smith this offseason, with the Mariners’ medical reports on the reliever seemingly offering peace of mind.
But now, it hasn’t worked out. And the Red Sox are left with the same hole they thought they had filled heading into this year — a proven, lock-down, seventh- or eighth-inning reliever who can dominate right-handed hitters.
It’s not as if the cupboard is bare for the Red Sox, with Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa bouncing back from hiccups last season. But the whole idea was to not have to lean on these guys too much, and that’s where Smith was supposed to come in.
So, what now?
The Red Sox might have some solutions in-house. Heath Hembree has shown a very good ability to get out right-handed hitting, posting a .171 batting average against vs. righties. The problem right now is what he has done vs. left-handed hitting, which has tuned him up at a .407 clip.
Matt Barnes also has shown the potential to be a late-inning option. But the righty has to cut down on home runs and walks in order to elicit complete trust.
The Sox are hoping there might be some others emerging from Triple-A Pawtucket somewhere down the line, with Noe Ramirez having previously filled that righty-on-righty role. And while his overall numbers with the PawSox haven’t been overly-encouraging, he has controlled righties, not allowing any earned runs in 8 1/3 innings against that side of the plate.
Pat Light did hit 101 mph pitching for the PawSox recently, but he would seem to need some more consistency at Triple-A.
And then there is the trade market.
The obvious choice for any team looking for midseason, late-inning relief help will be Aroldis Chapman. There is a problem, however: he plays for the Yankees. It’s one thing for Sox and Yanks doing a deal of Stephen Drew for Kelly Johnson, and it’s another for Boston giving up legitimate players who will be helping New York beat them down the road.
There are other useful late-inning arms who are in the last year of their contracts, such as Joaquin Benoit (Seattle), Santiago Casilla (Giants), or even Jonathan Papelbon (Nationals). They are all, as you can see, playing for contending teams.
If you feel like living dangerously, familiar face Fernando Rodney is 10-for-10 in save opportunities for the Padres, having not allowed a run in his 18 appearances. (The 39-year-old has a team option for next season, as well.)
A good place to turn is to look is towards pitchers for bad teams who are dominating righty hitters. There are plenty. And one actually is tearing it up while living in the final year of his contract — Arizona’s Daniel Hudson. The 29-year-old has allowed one hit in 30 at-bats against right-handed hitters this year.
Non-free-agents-to-be include Philly’s Hector Neris, a 26-year-old who has given up two hits in 42 at-bats to righties this season. (And yes, I know, the Phillies are in the mix at the moment.) There’s a 21-year-old coming into Fenway this week with the Rockies, Miguel Castro, who has allowed a single hit in 19 ABs for righties.
We just witnessed Houston’s Pat Neshek torture Red Sox right-handers, which he has done all season. That side of the plate are 2-for-31 against the side-winder, who is also a free agent at the end of the season if the Astros don’t pick up his $6.5 million option.
Or how about Oakland’s Fernando Rodriguez, who has given up five hits in 50 right-handed at-bats this season, having also not given up a run in his five outings in one-run games.
There will be multiple ways to go for the Red Sox in their quest to replace Smith, but it’s absolutely time to start thinking about it now.