BOSTON -- Since returning to Fenway Park from a 1-5 road trip, the Boston Red Sox have improved in every department. That includes the one area that may have caused the most trepidation during the season-opening slump.
Indeed, the once-beleaguered bullpen has followed suit in showcasing a turnaround at home. A 6-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday provided an excellent example.
After starter Felix Doubront was chased on a game-tying Luke Scott home run to start the top of the sixth inning, four relievers combined to stem the tide. Scott Atchison got one big out after an infield hit and a walk before the trio of Vicente Padilla, Franklin Morales and Alfredo Aceves shut the door.
The pen remains a fluid situation for manager Bobby Valentine. A few more performances like the one he saw on Sunday will help to solidify things.
“I don’t think anything is set in concrete but I’m confident in the guys coming out of the bullpen,” he said. “They’re pitching great. Vicente, Morales and Aceves look like they’re setting up nicely. Atch has been doing a good job. We’ll see, it’s a developing situation.”
Padilla was perhaps the most impressive. He struck out Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings and got Carlos Pena to fly to right to strand Atchison’s two runners in the sixth. Padilla then survived an infield single and a line drive off his leg in the seventh. He needed a few moments to recover and a couple of warm-up tosses after Ben Zobrist hit the comebacker, which resulted in a force out at second base, but Padilla showed no ill effects in finishing the inning off with a big strikeout of Scott.
That sequence won some fans in the clubhouse.
“He got hit pretty hard,” said first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who caught the carom off Padilla and threw to second for the out. “Went out there and got the next hitter out.”
Morales worked around two singles in the eighth and Aceves had a perfect ninth. He struck out Zobrist to finish off the Rays and record his second save.
Overall, the Boston bullpen has allowed one run on five hits and one walk in seven innings this series, striking out seven. Before the four-game set began, the relief corps owned an unsightly 5.89 ERA.