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Andre Rienzo's bullpen future beckons

Scott Carroll, Eric Surkamp could step up into rotation

Hannah Foslien

When Andre Rienzo needs a hug, who hugs Andre Rienzo?


Yeah, Conor Gillaspie's probably out. And it doesn't look like Robin Ventura is up for it anymore, either.

Ventura declined to speculate about replacing Rienzo in the rotation after yet another short start on Saturday ...

"We'll talk about that later," Ventura said. "Right now we're trying to figure out how to win a game."

... but his silence seems to speak volumes, since he had offered support for Rienzo after each of his previous early exits. Rienzo also deployed an economy of words after the game, whether about his future ...

... or what led to his uncertain future.

Both Ventura and Rienzo said one big inning has been his downfall, with Ventura saying he lacks the "caginess" to work out of trouble or control damage the way, say, Kevin Correia did on Saturday. Some of it's a lack of experience, but really, Rienzo's prospect reports suggested he'd never be in a position to accumulate that much experience, because his future awaited him in the bullpen.

His last four starts suggest a transition is in order.

Date Opp Rslt IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP ERA Pit Str
May 31 SDP L,2-4 3.1 7 3 3 2 4 0 1 4.26 80 47
Jun 6 LAA L,4-8 3.2 9 7 7 1 2 1 0 5.25 76 46
Jun 15 KCR L,3-6 6.0 6 6 6 4 3 2 1 5.67 105 55
Jun 21 MIN L,3-4 4.1 7 4 4 2 3 0 1 5.86 81 53
Last four starts 17.1 29
20 20 9 12 3 3 10.38

And that might not be the worst thing in the world for everybody involved. I'd like to see how Rienzo would look out of the bullpen, when he can use both his breaking balls and potentially ramp up his fastball for an inning or two at a time. In a world where Jake Petricka is No. 2 on the leverage ladder, Ventura has room to try out Rienzo in the late innings.

The only question is who might replace Rienzo in the rotation, and it comes down to two unspectacular options:

Scott Carroll: He's adjusted well to bullpen life, allowing just four earned runs and 24 baserunners over 19⅓ innings (1.86 ERA). He attributes some of the success to the addition of a cutter, which he started using in earnest late last month. Ventura says there could be another reason:

Ventura likes how Carroll has thrown, but thinks some of his recent aggression can also be attributed to the fear of a return trip to the minors. [...]

"The big thing is he comes in and throws strikes," Ventura said. "That’s pretty big for him to get through that for us just to save the bullpen on a day when it seemed like you were battling from behind."

Given that he's added a new pitch, it wouldn't be insanity to give him another look as a starter, especially since his extended appearance took place on Rienzo's schedule.

But Carroll's shown how useful a long reliever can be when fringe-type starters comprise 40 percent of the rotation. Rienzo can do the same multi-inning work, but then it limits what he could contribute in late-game situations.

The other option is to call up...

Eric Surkamp: After missing a start due to a hamstring issue, he's bounced back with two terrific outings that add up to this line: 14 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 HR, 2 BB, 15 K. The second of those starts took place on Saturday, and his curveball earned rave reviews from Jordan Danks:

Surkamp, who fanned a season-high 12 in his only previous start against the Mud Hens, entered the game fresh off tossing seven scoreless innings and picked up right where he left off, punching out four of the first six batters, while relying heavily on his curveball. [...]

Asked what Surkamp’s curve looked like from his point of view in center, Danks laughed.

"Not one that I’d like to see. It’s one of those pitches that I look at from the outfield that makes me glad that he’s on my team. (Surkamp’s) not overpowering, but he’s around the strike zone, changes speeds and hits his spots. That’s harder to hit sometimes than a guy throwing 98."

But there are reasons to suspend some enthusiasm. Surkamp's strikeout-to-walk numbers (84 strikeouts, 17 walks over 73⅓ innings) have been stellar all season, but opponents are hitting .302 over his 14 appearances.

You can chalk some of that up to BABIP, which has been over .400 for just about the entire year. It's regressing to the mean, and his numbers are improving as a result, but as a curveballing lefty who isn't overpowering, his misses could be more hittable than most.

He's also left-handed, which would make the rotation list heavily toward the port side again. That concern tends to be overblown, especially if it's not a permanent arrangement, and it might be worthwhile if the Sox can diversify the bullpen a little with Carroll and Rienzo in it -- one long-relief guy, one guy with some swing-and-miss in his breaking ball. I don't want to say the right-handed portion is somewhat indistinguishable at the moment, but I often forget Javy Guerra exists.

None of these possibilities are all that sexy, but they're all useful toward figuring out what the 2015 roster might look like. The Sox are going to need extra starters and righty relievers then, too, and they may as well get a head start on the evaluation process while the losses don't mean as much.