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Heath Hembree Deserves a Permanent Bullpen Spot

April 20, 2016

(April 18, 2016 - Source: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images North America)
(April 18, 2016 – Source: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images North America)

Heath Hembree was probably wearing a Superman costume underneath his Red Sox jersey last night.

When Joe Kelly went down, he stepped up — and hurled 3.1 innings scoreless innings, allowing just two hits while striking out four. Primarily a one inning at a time guy, it was the second longest outing of Hembree’s pro career. His longest came in 2014, when he hurled four scoreless innings against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Hembree definitely looked good yesterday and had a nice start to the year in Triple-A Pawtucket. It seemed like a strange coincidence that the Red Sox just called him up yesterday. But it worked out well for them. The way Hembree has pitched at the major league level, why isn’t he a mainstay in the bullpen?

In parts of four big league seasons, including this one, he is 2-0 with a 2.91 ERA in 38 outings spanning 46.1 innings. In that time, he has struck out 37 men, walked 16 men. He’s also pretty tough on right-handed hitters, who have a .675 OPS off of him.

Except in Hembree’s case, it would make for a pretty good season.

With above-average velocity on his fastball (close to 100 earlier in his career, touching 95-96 MPH on occasion now) and a sharp breaking slider, Hembree was projected as a late inning reliever throughout his minor league career, a setup man and possibly even closer. At 27 years old, he probably won’t achieve those projections. But he could still be a quality bullpen piece nonetheless.

He did not have the best spring and had a minor league option remaining. Those seem to be the two reasons why he did not make the bullpen out of the gate.

On a lot of teams, Hembree would be a part of the major league bullpen. Having him as a depth piece might be a testament to the bullpen depth the Red Sox have but at the same time, he could be an upgrade over Matt Barnes.

Hembree could possibly be optioned down today because he won’t be available to pitch for the next few days. But after his ten days are up, he could be back.


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