Around the Horn: Red Sox boast strong bullpen

Acquisition of Thornburg expected to help Kimbrel-led group

Around the Horn: Red Sox boast strong bullpen

With the start of Spring Training less than two weeks away, anticipation is building for the 2017 season. MLB.com is going around the horn to break down each area of the Red Sox, continuing with the bullpen.

Fenway fans sitting in the bleacher seats closest to the home bullpen are going to notice a lot of "popping" sounds in 2017. Red Sox manager John Farrell has a relief crew that can light up the radar gun at 95 mph and upwards.

All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, who averaged 97.08 mph with his four-seamer last year, according to Statcast™, anchors the group. And he now has a top-flight setup man who features the hard stuff first in Tyler Thornburg.

• Around the Horn: Corner infield | Outfield | Rotation

"It's good," said Kimbrel. "He's a strikeout machine. The way the game's going, strike zone's getting smaller, so we're going to have to strike out more guys. It's just part of the game."

Thornburg on joining Red Sox

Joe Kelly had struggled to stay consistent and healthy as a starter in his first couple of years with the Red Sox, but his momentum changed after converting to the bullpen at midseason. Backed by a four-seamer that averaged 97.2 mph and a strong slider, Kelly dominated for Boston after his September callup, and he was one of the few bright spots in the American League Division Series against the Indians.

Kelly K's Tulo, side in 8th

Matt Barnes was also drafted and developed as a starter before finding a niche airing it out on every pitch in the bullpen. Barnes still needs to gain more consistency, but he's only had one full season in the Majors. In 2017, the righty had 71 K's over 66 1/3 innings while averaging 97.05 mph on his four seamer.

Barnes strikes out the side

While the Red Sox did have some success with finesse relievers like Koji Uehara and Brad Ziegler, they are now going with the model that the most recent championship teams have deployed -- a collection of relievers who miss bats.

"We've got some arms, that's for sure," said Kimbrel. "We're also going to have a group of guys that we all kind of work with the same stuff. I think being able to help each other, pick things out, that's kind of part of the bullpen.

"It doesn't matter if one guy, two guys are doing good. We're a full group down there. We get into rhythms. I think as long as we work together down there, help each other out, I think we're going to have a pretty good team. We've got guys who throw 95-plus from the sixth inning to the last inning, so it's looking pretty good."

Kimbrel, Thornburg, Kelly and Barnes hope to dominate from the right side. From the left side, Robbie Ross Jr., Fernando Abad and Robby Scott are all looking to earn spots.

Ross, backed by a fastball that averaged 93.8 mph, had an underrated 2016 season, posting a 3.25 ERA over 54 appearances and striking out 56 in 55 1/3 innings.

Ross Jr. strikes out Miller

Abad was terrific with the Twins, but he stumbled after an August 1 trade to the Red Sox. The hope is that his struggles represented an adjustment period pitching in a more pressurized market.

Scott, who relies on control instead of speed, has a story everyone can root for. Boston signed him out of an independent league in 2011, and he made it to the Major Leagues last September at the age of 27. And once Scott got there, he proved the call was justified, holding opponents scoreless in all seven of his outings.

The bullpen looks to be a clear strength for the Red Sox heading into 2017.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.