From where I'm sitting, it appears part of the plan is to kill left-handed reliever Dan Jennings before Memorial Day.
Tuesday night's game, a 7-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins, got out of hand under Jennings' watch. With the Sox trailing 3-2 in the fifth, Jennings relieved and cleaned up a mess left by starter Mike Pelfrey. But the wheels came off when the lefty went back out for the sixth inning. Jennings allowed singles to three of the first four hitters he faced, and that set the table for a four-run Minnesota rally that put the game out of reach.
I can't blame Jennings because he has been overused in the early going this season. He has appeared in 15 of the 31 Sox games, and that seems excessive. The wear and tear is starting to take its toll, as Jennings was pitching well until this past week.
First 12 appearances: 2-0, 0.93 ERA, 7 Ks, 2 BBs, 10 H in 9.2 IP
Past 3 appearances: 0-0, 32.40 ERA, 0 Ks, 1 BB, 8 H in 1.2 IP
Yes, it's going wrong for Jennings now, and the overuse is a twofold problem: First, he's been the only left-hander in the bullpen for most of the year, which means he is being summoned frequently as a situational pitcher. The Sox recently added left-hander David Holmberg to the 25-man roster when Nate Jones went on the disabled list, but Holmberg is roster filler. He's not the type of pitcher who is going to be trusted in medium-leverage situations, let alone high-leverage roles.
Secondly, Jennings has been used as the "first man out" when a starter pitcher falters in the fifth or sixth inning. That was the case in Tuesday's game against the Twins, and it's been the case more than once in games started by Pelfrey and Dylan Covey.
Pelfrey has averaged 4.2 innings in his four starts, while Covey has averaged an even 5 innings in his five starts. Forty percent of the Sox rotation cannot make it through the sixth inning, ever, and that's going to cause somebody in the bullpen to either get hurt or lose effectiveness.
Jennings appears to be the first victim.
So, what are the Sox to do? They are boxed into a corner to some extent. Two guys who were supposed to be in the rotation -- Carlos Rodon and James Shields -- are on the disabled list, and return dates are unknown. In the meantime, somebody has to pitch. The Sox have been consistent in their message that they don't intend to rush their prospects, even though Triple-A results suggest Carson Fulmer and Reynaldo Lopez could probably pitch more effectively than Pelfrey and Covey.
But since the Sox don't want to take that step, Pelfrey and Covey are going to keep getting starts. My suggestion? Make them wear it if they don't pitch well. Pelfrey is supposed to be a veteran "innings eater." Well, let's see him eat some innings for once, even if the innings he is providing are not of good quality. That's better than running a left-handed bullpen asset such as Jennings into the ground. Covey is a Rule 5 pick and a developmental guy. Well, it's time to learn the hard way, kid.
When these guys go to the mound, tell them six innings are expected, come hell or high water. Will it result in losses? Of course, but the Sox are already losing the majority of games on the days Pelfrey and Covey pitch. (They are a combined 3-6 in those nine games.)
Another option: Designate Cody Asche for assignment and add a 13th pitcher to the roster. Asche has zero defensively utility, and he's hitting .107/.180/.179 for the season. He easily could be replaced with placeholder pitcher such as Juan Minaya, who is right-handed, but he could soak up some of the burden for the front end of the Sox bullpen.