Red Sox Bullpen Already Has Injury Issues, And It May Be The Team’s Fault

By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Did the Red Sox finally find their setup man when they traded for Tyler Thornburg? Or did they acquire yet another damaged good?

Even worse, did they do the damage themselves?

The Red Sox certainly view Thornburg as an important piece of their bullpen entering the 2017 season, considering they traded Travis Shaw, two minor leaguers, and a player to be named later to get him. But for one reason or another, Thornburg is already threatening to continue the trend of offseason bullpen additions losing the setup role before they can get started.

As reported by Ian Browne of MLB.com on Saturday, Red Sox manager John Farrell is already talking about replacements for Thornburg in the eighth inning if he isn’t ready for the start of the season, naming Joe Kelly as a prime candidate. Thornburg hasn’t pitched in a Spring Training game since March 1; he allowed seven earned runs in 1.1 spring innings before being shut down.

Thornburg has dealt with injuries in the past, but incredibly, his latest flare-up could be the Red Sox’ fault. He had been participating in the team’s shoulder strength and conditioning program in an effort to build arm strength but struggled to adjust to it, in what Farrell termed an “adaptation” period.

Thornburg has never had a major injury to his arm, elbow or shoulder, but he had a close call in 2014. He hit the disabled list in June with what the Brewers believed was a wrist flexor strain related to elbow discomfort, but it was actually a UCL injury that usually results in Tommy John surgery. Instead, he received a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection and shut it down for a few months, ultimately avoiding the surgery.

That doesn’t mean that the 28-year-old Thornburg is out of the woods yet. He’s already off to a bad start in the health department and is treading dangerously close to Carson Smith territory. After the Red Sox acquired Smith and Roenis Elias from the Seattle Mariners for Wade Miley and minor leaguer Jonathan Aro a year ago, Smith pitched just 2.2 innings before undergoing Tommy John surgery. He missed the rest of the 2016 season and just threw off a mound for the first time last week.

In light of questionable reliever trades, it’s also worth bringing up the haul that the San Diego Padres got from the Red Sox for closer Craig Kimbrel. The centerpiece of the deal was outfielder Manuel Margot, who is currently ranked No. 23 on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list. The package also included minor-league prospects Logan Allen, Carlos Asuaje, and Javier Guerra. Kimbrel was good, but not his usual dominant self in his first season with the Red Sox, recording 31 saves with a 3.40 ERA and missing time in the middle of the season with a knee injury.

In total, the Red Sox have traded away nine players for what’s supposed to be the top-three spots in their bullpen (plus Elias). That’s a lot to give up for three pitchers who have all had their share of injury issues in recent years. And it’s especially a lot to send away for Smith and now Thornburg, who have yet to contribute anything meaningful to the Red Sox pitching staff.

Thornburg still has time to prove his value to the Red Sox and could still avoid a major arm injury, but it’s certainly not the start to his Red Sox career that the team was looking for. His issue also sounds like a problem that was avoidable, due to the problems arising from the team’s own conditioning program. If Red Sox president of baseball ops. Dave Dombrowski goes two straight seasons getting virtually nothing out of his big offseason trade acquisition for the bullpen, he and the team may have no one to blame but themselves.

MORE: Zolak & Bertrand talked about the growing injury concerns surrounding the Red Sox entering the 2017 season on Monday. Listen to the full podcast below:

Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.

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