The Red Sox are likely to make Nathan Eovaldi their closer when he returns from the injured list, a baseball source confirmed Monday night. NESN’s Tom Caron first reported that the team is planning on naming Eovaldi its closer.
The move represents a major shift in philosophy for the Red Sox, who decided not to replace Craig Kimbrel over the winter and instead have used a bullpen-by-committee in which relievers have served a variety of roles throughout the season’s first three months. Those relievers have combined to blow an American League-high 17 saves, with Matt Barnes’ recent struggles and a carousel of unproven arms being cycled through the group in recent weeks offsetting early success from pitchers like Marcus Walden and Brandon Workman.
Eovaldi, who was excellent as a starter last season and was one of Boston’s main postseason heroes, has never recorded a save in the majors and has made just eight relief appearances in eight major-league seasons. The 29-year-old drew some free-agent interest as a reliever but desired to sign as a starter and did so with the Red Sox, who gave him a four-year, $68 million contract.
Eovaldi has been out since mid-April with elbow troubles, undergoing surgeries to remove loose bodies in April 23 and rehabbing ever since. His progression was slowed by biceps soreness early last month but he has gotten back to a normal schedule over the last couple weeks and could return quickly in his new role.
With Eovaldi out of the rotation, the Sox will need to turn to a new starter alongside Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez. With lefty Brian Johnson on the injured list with non-baseball medical matter, the Sox could use an internal option like top prospect Darwinzon Hernandez or righty Hector Velazquez, use “openers” or short-term starters in the fifth spot, or acquire a rotation piece in a trade before the July 31 deadline.
Eovaldi will anchor a bullpen that will include Barnes, Workman, Walden, Ryan Brasier, Heath Hembree (when he returns from the IL) and whomever else steps up in the next few weeks. The Sox have used 18 different relievers this season with Velazquez, Josh Taylor, Steven Wright, Colten Brewer and newcomer Trevor Kelley among the current group following Monday’s roster moves.