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PawSox loaded with major league-caliber bullpen options

August 4, 2013

The Pawtucket Red Sox are presently stocked with so many potential big-league bullpen arms that someone like veteran Ryan Rowland-Smith could find himself lost in the shuffle. Rowland-Smith can opt out of his deal with the Red Sox Monday. PHOTO BY JILLIAN SOUZA

PAWTUCKET — Sometimes the trades that a major-league ballclub doesn’t end up making can prove quite revealing.

The Jake Peavy acquisition was not the only smoke signal sent out by the Red Sox at the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline. Last Wednesday’s 4 p.m Eastern Time deadline did not feature the acquisition of a warm body for the sole purpose of augmenting the bullpen core that manager John Farrell presently has at his disposal.

Instead, Boston elected to stock the cabinet with another depth piece. Lost in the shuffle of Peavy coming to New England and Jose Iglesias heading to Detroit was the deal Boston made for Brayan Villarreal, a hard-throwing 26-year-old who had struck out 41 in 34.1 innings for Triple-A Toledo prior to landing on the disabled list with a right thumb injury on July 23.

Boston chose to option Villarreal to Pawtucket, where the righty was immediately placed on the DL. In terms of how the remainder of the season plays out, the subtle transaction involving Villarreal switching teams speaks volumes about the organization’s comfort level with the assemblage of bullpen options presently under its thumb.

There was no need to aggressively pursue a relief pitcher during baseball’s annual July swapping holiday, not when help is merely a phone call to PawSox skipper Gary DiSarcina away.

As presently constructed, the PawSox’ bullpen is flush with ready-to-order options should a need at the top arise. The belief that the Red Sox are dealing from a position of strength started to gain traction as last week’s homestand at McCoy Stadium played out when this particular niche of ballplayers was subjected to a beehive of activity.

Two rehabbers, Franklin Morales and Alex Wilson, arrived one day apart and over the ensuing several days took positive steps in their quest to rejoin the parent club. Reinforcements from the majors came when Jose De La Torre, Pedro Beato and Brandon Workman were optioned.

(In Workman’s case, he’s lined up to rejoin the Red Sox sooner than the required 10 days he was supposed to spend in Triple A. Outfielder Daniel Nava is on paternity leave and will likely not be available for Boston’s three-game series in Houston.)

Pawtucket’s relieving situation also saw recently signed Jose Contreras leave the team for a few days so he could fly home to Cuba to deal with the death of a family member. Another intriguing option, Ryan Rowland-Smith, came off the disabled list after missing a month due to an appendectomy.

Let’s not forget about Clayton Mortensen, who began the season in Boston’s bullpen and may have regained some trust after tossing four innings in spot-start duty for Pawtucket during last Friday’s 15-inning loss to Norfolk.

As crowded as Pawtucket’s bullpen may seem – don’t forget about International League All-Star and team saves leader Anthony Carter or youngsters Chris Martin or Brock Huntzinger – things started to work themselves out by the time DiSarcina & Co. boarded a bus for Buffalo in the wee hours of Saturday morning.

Veteran Brandon Lyon opted out of his deal on Thursday, bringing to an end a two-week stint that saw the 33-year-old pitch well – he posted scoreless outings in three of his four appearances with Pawtucket. Taking a long look around, it probably dawned on Lyon that his best shot to return to the majors was not with the Red Sox.

In the case of Rowland-Smith, the 30-year-old lefty can follow Lyon’s lead if the Red Sox choose to not put him on the active roster by Monday, which is when his opt-out date takes affect. Taking inventory of the Red Sox bullpen, you’ll find three southpaws (Craig Breslow, Drake Britton and Matt Thornton) and fourth option in Morales that’s on the 40-man roster – a distinction that Rowland-Smith does not have working in his favor.

A baseball source said over the weekend that he hadn’t heard any rumblings regarding Rowland-Smith and if any possible landing destinations have been bandied about (he did not pitch Saturday and Sunday at Buffalo). Had Rowland-Smith not missed five weeks due to injury, it’s safe to venture that the Red Sox may have brought him up when Andrew Miller went down for the season rather than traded for Thornton.

In Britton’s case, he might be still starting games for Pawtucket rather then excelling in his present relief role with Boston, a role that in turn has left Rowland-Smith in a potentially vulnerable spot.

“A player in my position (the opt-out clause) is the only real option that you have. For me, I know I can pitch in the big leagues and on a personal level, I want to get back there,” stated Rowland-Smith about returning to a realm he yearned for since last toiling in the bigs for Seattle in 2010. “I want to have that opportunity and I would love to have it with the Red Sox. If that opportunity comes some place else because the Red Sox don’t have the room, so be it.

“There are so many good pitchers (in Pawtucket) who can slide into any role, but anything can change,” continued Rowland-Smith, who this season has seen him hold International League hitters to a .185 batting average in 45.2 innings. “We’ll just wait and see what happens.”

Surveying his team’s crowded bullpen situation, DiSarcina remarked, “It’s been so fluid here, but these guys know what’s going on. They’re aware.”

So, too, is Boston’s baseball operations department, which through the Peavy trade sent the following message: There are plenty of relievers already onboard. Outside applicants need not apply.

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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