After a June swoon that left scores of Bostonians ready to jump off the Tobin Bridge, the Red Sox are retooled and firing on all cylinders in July.
Central to this retooling are new pitchers Drew Pomeranz and Brad Ziegler, each of whom addresses a glaring need exposed by opposing offenses last month.
Pomeranz is pitching in his sixth Major League season, but is still just 27 years old. Once a highly-touted prospect in Cleveland’s system, the lefty struggled to stay healthy and in the big leagues until this spring. He had trouble keeping the ball in the yard in his three years with the Colorado Rockies, going 4-14 with a 5.20 earned run average in 34 games. In Oakland, he started striking hitters out (8.5 Ks per nine innings) and keeping the ball in the park (.9 homers per nine), but he couldn’t hold down a rotation spot and worked mostly from the bullpen.
The San Diego Padres signed Pomeranz as a starter and he flourished, striking out 10.1 batters per nine and holding a 2.47 ERA through 17 starts in 2016. Some of this success can be credited to the addition of a cut fastball, giving him three pitches with distinct speeds and movements, leaving batters less comfortable in the box. Pomeranz could stand to get his walk rate (3.6 batters per nine) down if he wants to succeed in Fenway Park, but he gives the Red Sox five competent starting pitchers, something they haven’t had in years.
Pomeranz stands 6’6” and boasts an impressive pedigree. His great grandfather, Garland “Gob” Buckeye was a major league pitcher as well. He pitched two innings for the Washington Senators in 1918, walked six batters and gave up four runs, quit, then played professional football for six years. He returned to baseball in 1925, signing with the Cleveland Indians. He not only became a competent pitcher, but the 260-pound Buckeye clobbered five home runs in his first two full seasons after moving to a state befitting of his last name. Nothing in this paragraph was made up.
Already 23 when he was drafted in the 20th round in 2003, Brad Ziegler didn’t reach the big leagues until he was 28, but he made a splash right away. He began his career with an MLB record 39 consecutive scoreless innings. Oddly, he struck out just 18 batters and walked 11 in those 39 innings, leaning heavily on Oakland’s defense, something one would not recommend in 2016.
The rest of Ziegler’s career with the A’s was less notable. He pitched 231.1 innings with Oakland, mostly in a setup role, never racking up a lot of strikeouts, but maintaining a 2.49 ERA, primarily by keeping the ball in the park. Like a Swiss watch, he had the exact same ERA in 348 innings in Arizona over the next five years despite striking out even fewer batters (5.8 per nine innings). The sidearmer’s primary skill seems to be limiting home runs, as he’s given up just 22 in his nine-year career.
Perhaps the takeaway from this stroll through Ziegler’s past is that he will post a 2.49 ERA for the Red Sox. More likely, he’ll keep the ball away from the Green Monster and limit damage in the late innings as long as the defense does its job.
Ziegler’s great grandfather, Jefferson “Squirt” Hoosier, was a lion tamer in Barnum and Bailey’s traveling circus. After 48 years of successful taming, he was mauled by an angry pride, but hundreds of his past lion colleagues attended his funeral. Everything in this paragraph was made up.
The 2016 Red Sox have the offensive weapons to reach the playoffs and make a deep run. The pitching has been suspect, with too many innings wasted on Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, Henry Owens, and Sean O’Sullivan.
With Pomeranz on staff and one more quality reliever in the bullpen, there are reasons to believe that visitors to the Tobin Bridge the rest of the summer will stay in their cars.