Tazawa re-establishes himself; now it's Porcello's turn


BOSTON -- A tale of two pitchers:

1. Tuesday was a reminder of how important Junichi Tazawa is to the Red Sox bullpen.

Tazawa experienced some shoulder stiffness last week and didn't pitch in the four-game series in Toronto. Then, when the Sox got into a slugfest with Houston last Friday night, with both teams scoring in the seventh and eighth, Tazawa was missing in action. He had thrown a bullpen session in the afternoon and was unavailable that night.

But Tazawa pitched a scoreless inning in Sunday's comeback win against the Astros. Then, on Tuesday night against the Marlins, he entered the game with a runner in scoring position in the seventh and the Red Sox trailing, 3-1. He stranded the runner, and the Sox went ahead with three runs in the bottom of the inning. Tazawa then pitched a perfect eighth, setting the stage for Koji Uehara to close out the Sox' 4-3 victory.

Two games, eight batters faced, seven retired, no hits or runs allowed. And, not coincidentally, two one-run Boston wins.

As has been documented plenty, the Red Sox set-up relief is disturbingly thin beyond Tazawa and Alexi Ogando, especially with Ogando showing signs of wear-and- tear (allowing two homers and three runs on Sunday).

Chances are, if the Sox do indeed look to add later this month at the trade deadline, their chief focus will be on late-inning bullpen help. In a perfect world, general manager Ben Cherington would obtain a lefty to help John Farrell with matchups.

But regardless of who's added, the eighth inning is already locked down, assuming Tazawa's shoulder -- and the rest of his body --holds up.

2. There's no overstating the importance of Rick Porcello's start Wednesday night.

Porcello has been brutal in the last month-and-a-half, and the Red Sox can't afford to have a momentum-killer in their rotation as they play catch-up in the standings.

Clay Buchholz has pitched like a true front-of-the-rotation starter since April and Eduardo Rodriguez has allowed one or no runs in six of his eight starts.

Wade Miley is second on the team in quality starts, and what the Sox do with the fifth spot -- Steven Wright? Justin Masterson? Brian Johnson? - is yet to be determined.

But Porcello needs to take a step forward Wednesday and show at least some improvement. The Sox can't afford to have any more outings like the disastrous one Porcello turned in last Wednesday afternoon in Toronto.

The team's options are limited. Porcello is signed for four more years after this one. He can't be sent to the minors to work on things unless he agrees to do so.

The best path would be a modest step tonight -- say, six innings, three runs allowed -- that would give him some confidence going into the All-Star break and signal that he has at least begun to figure some things out.

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