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Alex Cora explains his bullpen management in crushing loss to Astros

BOSTON -- Alex Cora had some explaining to do after Monday night's 13-5 loss to the Astros at Fenway Park. The Red Sox had a one-run lead on the team they're chasing in the AL Wild card race in the fifth inning, but then watched as Kyle Barraclough gave up 10 runs in relief over the final 4.1 innings. 

As Barraclough was hammered by the Astros, Cora sat in the Boston dugout. There was no phone call to the bullpen to warm anyone up at any point in the night. Not when Barraclough surrendered six runs in the sixth, or two runs in each the seventh and eighth innings. 

The bullpen phone was not broken, and Cora was not frozen in time on the bench. The Boston manager said after the crushing loss that he was once again thinking of the days ahead and giving his bullpen a rest day.

It's an interesting explanation, after Cora did the same thing in Sunday's loss to the Dodgers. He had reliever Chris Murphy throw 90 pitches over four innings of relief, allowing six runs in the process. Murphy was sent down after Sunday's game, making room for Barraclough to join the roster.

The Boston bullpen is running on fumes after being overworked the last few weeks, and needed a reset game on Sunday. Apparently one reset game wasn't enough, as Cora explained Monday night.

"We had a lot of guys down," Cora said after Monday's loss. "This is where we were. We had Chris [Martin] and we had Kenley [Jansen]. It just didn't happen for [Barraclough] today. He'd been throwing strikes the whole time in the minor leagues and Triple A. He was the guy in there and it just didn't happen."

The fact that Boston starters can't seem to go more than five innings hasn't helped the bullpen situation. Chris Sale exited in the fifth after a wild pitch allowed Houston to take a 3-2 lead and then a walk put runners on the corners with two outs. Barraclough came in and got Chas McCormick to ground out to end the frame.

But after Adam Duvall crushed a two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth to put Boston on top 4-3, Barraclough gave it all back -- and then some. Usually Josh Winckowski or John Schreiber (who both pitched Saturday) would be Cora's pick to head out for the sixth, but neither were available. 

Barraclough walked the first two batters of the sixth, and the Astros had the lead back after a Jose Altuve triple scored two runs. After hitting Alex Bregman, Barraclough gave up a two-run jack to Yordon Alvarez to make it a 8-4 lead for Houston. Barraclough walked the next two batters and then hit McCormick to load the bases. Yaniar Diaz drove in Houston's final run of the inning with an infield single, making it a 9-4 game.

The Astros sent 12 batters to the plate in the sixth, scoring six runs off just three hits to go with four walks and a hit batsman. At no point did Cora even look toward the bullpen phone.

Barraclough hit another batter and gave up three singles in the seventh, plating two more runs for the Astros. Altuve hit a two-run homer off the righty in the eighth, completing his cycle and putting Houston on top 13-4.

 In total, Barraclough threw 4.1 innings of relief, though he provided very little relief. He allowed 10 runs -- all earned -- off 11 hits while walking five and hitting three batters. He threw 94 pitches, and only 51 of them went for strikes.

"It's awful, I feel bad," Cora said after the loss. "It happened to [the Astros] last week when they brought up a guy who threw 100 pitches and saved their bullpen when we beat them. [Barraclough] wanted to go out in the ninth and we were thinking about sending a position player. You saw me. My face was probably all over TV. It was uncomfortable.

"He's been throwing the ball well down there and throwing strikes," Cora said of Barraclough's 2.43 ERA with Worcester this season. "Just didn't have it today."

That isn't going to make anyone feel any better about Monday night's results. The Red Sox were clinging to their playoff hopes heading into the series, and need to stack up wins against the Astros to keep those dreams alive. They now sit 5.5 games behind Houston for the final AL Wild Card spot, with two games left in this series.

While Cora can fall back on a tired bullpen as his reason for keeping Barraclough in Monday's game, many fans will wonder if this is the Boston manger's version of quiet quitting. There's no better way to show chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom that you don't appreciate the conveyer belt of minor leaguers that he's been providing you with than letting one of them get shellacked for a few hours in a must-win game.

Cora, though, added Boston's busy schedule over the last two weeks in his layered explanation. The Red Sox have played 14 straight days with two more games on tap before their first day off since Aug. 14. Add in that Boston starters aren't holding up their end of the bargain, and the bullpen is simply gassed. 

"It's 16 games in a row, and a lot of teams go through this and we just have to get over that hurdle," said Cora. "Right now for us, this is where we're at. We're going to be in better shape [Tuesday] bullpen-wise. Much better."  

The Red Sox better hope so. 

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