Garrett Whitlock has a 0.93 ERA as a reliever for the Red Sox this season, compared to a 4.15 ERA as a starter. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

It’s always been about the bullpen. Midway through the 2022 Boston Red Sox season, that hasn’t changed.

The Red Sox bullpen was exposed once again over the nine-game road trip that ended Sunday in Chicago. Boston relievers had four blown saves on the trip and entered the Tampa Bay series with more blown saves than converted saves.

The relief structure of Alex Cora’s team was solidified when Tanner Houck became the closer in June. But the unvaccinated Houck wasn’t available in Toronto and the bullpen fell into disarray once again. Houck was back in Chicago, but in his first appearance of the series he allowed an insurance run in the eighth inning of Saturday’s 3-1 loss.

All of it served as a reminder that the Red Sox need relief help, especially from the right side. John Schreiber has been one of the best setup men in baseball, but he and Houck can’t do it alone.

With the trade deadline less than a month away, relievers will be in demand. Lockdown late-inning pitchers like David Robertson, who saved the first two games of the series in Chicago, will command a hefty return for a sub-.500 team like the Cubs.

Most contenders will look for ways to help the bullpen. It’s the easy way to upgrade your playoff chances.


The Red Sox, despite the inconsistent results they’ve gotten out of the pen, should avoid the temptation to trade for help. Instead, they should look within the organization.

They’ve already announced one move that will help strengthen the back end of their bullpen. Garrett Whitlock, who has been on the injured list since June 9, will pitch in relief when he returns.

“He’s still a good pitcher regardless of if it’s the first inning or the ninth inning,” Cora told reporters in Chicago, “but using him as a multi-inning weapon makes sense for where we are at and with the guys we have right now.”

It makes perfect sense. Whitlock has a 0.93 ERA as a reliever for Boston this season, compared to a 4.15 ERA as a starter. And while his long-term future as a starter looks bright, the Sox short-term needs are clearly more pressing in the bullpen.

And there are other arms that could help.

Connor Seabold hasn’t won a big-league game as a starter, but he has impressed with 30 swings-and-misses in 8 2/3 innings with Boston. His slider was much sharper in his second start of the season on Sunday, but his fastball velocity was still down compared to what he clocked on the radar gun in Worcester.


That velo, as high as 96 mph in Triple-A, might tick up in shorter stints out of the bullpen. And that could make his changeup — a terrific pitch on its own — even more effective.

Right now Rich Hill is on the injured list. When he returns he would be another candidate for the bullpen, with 130 relief appearances over his 18-year career.

Cora believes the Red Sox have the options within to weather the storm.

“If we get healthy, then you get two starters (back) and you get Whit and then you can mix and match and give guys rest and you still have a lot of quality arms back there,” said Cora. “I think patience is the most important thing in this process.”

It’s also a quality fans tend to lack. The Red Sox have the toughest remaining schedule by winning percentage of any team in baseball. Time will tell how badly fans’ patience is tested in late-game situations over the coming weeks.

Tom Caron is a studio host for the Red Sox broadcast on NESN.

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