Once Set In Stone, Sox Bullpen Suddenly In Flux

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The start of the baseball season is just 10 days away, and as if there weren’t questions already surrounding the Sox as spring training winds down, they were dealt two doses of bad news in the bullpen in successive fashion.

First, the newly-acquired Carson Smith suffered a strained flexor mass muscle earlier this week and will begin the season on the disabled list. Smith avoided some fears of potential Tommy John surgery before an MRI revealed the strain, so the Sox and the player dodged a bullet there, but there’s no timetable for his return at the moment. Some reports have Smith missing a minimum of a month, and possibly more.

Now on top of that, fellow bullpen arm Koji Uehara is experiencing general soreness, and the team will take things slow with the 40-year-old in the next couple of days. Manager John Farrell told reporters that “at this point” it doesn’t feel like Uehara will hit the DL, but there are no guarantees.

All of a sudden, where the team and fans were banking on the grouping of Smith, Uehara, Junichi Tazawa and new closer Craig Kimbrel  serving as a four-man wrecking crew in the later innings, that plan has been put on hold for now. We already know that Smith is on the fritz, while Uehara is dealing with a setback of his own, albeit it to a much lesser degree. The news of Smith’s injury is especially disappointing, as the 26-year-old is an electric talent with a nasty slider that’s aided by a slightly-unorthodox delivery. In 70 appearances with the Mariners last year, Smith recorded 13 saves, 90 total strikeouts, an 11.8 strikeouts/9 innings and held righty batters to a .169/.248/.254 line.

As for Koji, the man is defying Father Time this late in his career, but he missed the last two months of the season last year with a fractured wrist. With Kimbrel now in the fold, Uehara’s responsibilities have been greatly reduced, but there’s a chance he begins the season on the DL and that’s obviously less than ideal.

For potential replacements, Farrell has tabbed Noe Ramirez and Matt Barnes as the early candidates, and you can’t blame Sox fans for shuddering over the idea of seeing Barnes attempt to fill the role that was initially carved out for Smith.

On top of the bigger questions surrounding the team like how the starting rotation will shake out, how Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez will play on the corners and if the offense overall can produce, now we have to worry about the bullpen right out of the gate. Joy.


Follow Mark Burke on Twitter @m_burke42 

Photo Credit: CBS Sports (USATSI)

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