Red Sox To Designate Hirokazu Sawamura For Assignment, Select Zack Kelly

The Red Sox are evidently taking multiple steps to shake up their bullpen, with right-handers Hirokazu Sawamura designated for assignment, according to Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe. That’s the second such move of the night, as lefty Austin Davis is reportedly being designated as well. Chad Jennings of The Athletic tweets that Zack Kelly and Caleb Ort will take the open roster spots. Alex Speier of the Boston Globe had previously mentioned Kelly as a possibility.

Sawamura, 34, had pitched in 10 seasons in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball before signing a two-year deal with the Red Sox prior to the 2021 campaign. Coming into today’s action, he had thrown in 103 games with a 3.16 ERA between last year and this year. His 22.5% strikeout in that time is around league average, although his 12.8% walk rate is definitely on the high side. He has been able to limit damage by keeping the ball on the ground, as evidenced by his 51.9% ground ball rate.

There are some reasons to be somewhat bearish on Sawamura, as his .267 career BABIP is below the .290 league average. That might be somewhat related to his ground ball tendencies, but he’s also been hit hard. His 45.9% hard hit rate is about ten points above the league average and only in the fifth percentile among MLB pitchers. He’s also been trending in the wrong direction, having registered a 2.48 ERA through July 23 this year but a 5.40 mark since.

Between the Sawamura and Davis moves, it seems the club felt it necessary to make changes to a relief corps that has been fairly disappointing. The club’s combined bullpen has a 4.49 ERA that ranks 26th in the majors. Although some advanced metrics are a bit kinder, none of them view the group as elite.

Sawamura’s contract came with a split option for 2023, with various escalators in play. MLBTR’s Anthony Franco recently looked at that option, noting that the club option had already increased to $3.6MM. Since that writing, it has ticked up to $3.7MM and still had room to climb. If the club had declined that option, Sawamura would have had the ability to trigger a player option, which had reached $1.9MM as of today and could still have grown further. It seems the Red Sox didn’t intend to trigger their end of the deal and are cutting Sawamura loose.

Since the trade deadline has now passed, the Sox will have no choice but to put Sawamura on outright waivers or release waivers. If he were to pass through waivers, the Sox would remain on the hook for the remainder of his salary for this season, as well as the $1MM buyout on the 2023 option.

Ort, 30, is already on the club’s 40-man roster, having thrown 15 innings this year with an ERA of 9.00. But as for Kelly, this will be the first addition to a big league roster for the 27-year-old. Having previously spent time in the systems of the Athletics and Angels, he was released and signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox prior to the 2021 season. This year, he spent the entire season in Triple-A, throwing 49 2/3 innings with a 2.72 ERA and an excellent 34.4% strikeout rate, although a high walk rate of 12%. Boston will give him a chance to see if he can carry any of those strong numbers over to the majors.

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