BOSTON – Despite starting last season on the disabled list, Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow had arguably the best season of his career. His 1.81 ERA was a career best, 11th among major league relievers, fifth among American League left-handers.
He made 61 appearances, spanning 59 2/3 innings, without allowing a run in 52. His 23 perfect appearances were second-most on the staff. His final 11 appearances of the season were scoreless, while holding opponents to a .143 average. In the final month of the season, he lowered his ERA 0.41 points.
He recorded a career-best 16-game scoreless streak, spanning 13 2/3 innings, in that span, holding opponents to a .140 average.
But with the 7 1/3 innings he threw in his first postseason experience, his 67 combined innings were the third-most he has pitched in his nine big league seasons. The extra month of the postseason also cut into the time he had to prepare for this season.
He was held back in spring training and began this season on the disabled with a mild left shoulder strain. Since being activated on April 9, he has made 29 appearances, spanning 28 1/3 innings.
Some of his numbers, though, are well off what he recorded last year, with a 5.40 ERA, a 1.906 WHIP (compared to 1.123 last season), 6.4 walks-per-nine innings (2.7), 10.8 hits-per-nine (7.4), and 0.95 strikeouts-to-walks ratio (1.83).
In two-thirds of an inning in Wednesday’s loss to the Cubs, he allowed four runs on four hits with no walks and a strikeout in the ninth inning.
Manager John Farrell said Breslow is not managing a physical ailment.
“No, because even coming out of spring training late last year or starting the season a little bit delayed, he had one of the better years of his career last year,” Farrell said. “So, what has been relived here the last two years is that it’s taking him a little bit longer than normal to get ready for game action in season. And he’s even attempted starting throwing earlier in the offseason. It’s just when he first gets to game speed, it’s taking him a little while to get in game shape.”
Farrell doesn’t see Breslow’s performance resulting from a lack of spring training.
“I wouldn’t say [he’s] building up arm strength because even the other night, two nights ago, I thought he was throwing some of his better stuff of late. There’s been multiple conversations on more approach rather than physical side that might play into the number of walks. I thought he was more aggressive the other night and yet a couple of base hits when he was ahead in the count. But we’re still trying to seek some consistency with the performance.
“I think [his approach is] more just in terms of being aggressive overall rather than thinking there’s got to be a perfect pitch made every time.”
Perhaps the extended season last year, along with the shortened offseason, is having an effect.
“Well, I can’t say that October doesn’t have a carryover effect for every guy that’s played regardless of position,” Farrell said. “You take all that into account and the one area of greatest unpredictability is bullpen form year-to-year performance. And there’s no injury. He’s pitched a lot over the last four or five years. But again, all I can speak to is that there’s no physical ailments right now that specifically he’s dealing with.”