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Archive for the tag “Alfredo Aceves”

Deep Depth

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On Wednesday night, Andrew Bailey ran to the pitcher’s mound from the bullpen at Progressive Field in Cleveland and recorded three consecutive outs. He pocketed his first save of 2013, and the Red Sox notched their tenth win of the season.

The scene was similar on Thursday night for Bailey and the Red Sox in the ninth. Strike out. Foul out. Ground out. Save. Ballgame.

It was a pair of uneventful ninth innings — just what you’d want from your closer — but it represented something larger, something that the Red Sox desperately missed last season: bullpen depth.

In 2012, before Bailey even pitched in a regular season game, he underwent surgery on his thumb due to an injury he may have suffered during a collision at first base during Spring Training (it was pitching coach Bob McClure who disclosed that Bailey first felt soreness in his thumb when he was squeezing his bottle of shampoo in the shower). With Daniel Bard transitioning from eighth inning reliever/fireman to starting pitcher, Bobby Valentine was left to choose between Alfredo Aceves and the newly acquired Mark Melancon.

Aceves was anointed the closer, and like many members of the Red Sox bullpen, he failed. His command suffered greatly in the role, but he was far from the being the only ineffective reliever.

April 21, 2012. It was a Saturday afternoon game at Fenway Park against the Yankees. And it epitomized the utter disaster that was the Red Sox bullpen. The Sox lineup pounded out crooked number after crooked number early in the ballgame. They had racked up nine runs before Mark Teixeira hit a seemingly innocuous solo home run off of Felix Doubront during the lefty’s last inning of work. Doubront left the game after the sixth with 9-1 lead, and when Cody Eppley threw the last pitch of the game it was 15-9, in favor of the Yankees. Vicente Padilla, Matt Albers, Franklin Morales, Aceves, and Justin Thomas (Junichi Tazawa gave up one hit and no run in his 1.1 innings of work) combined to allow 14 runs, 13 of them were earned. The Yankees won the game, and the Red Sox bullpen was downright atrocious.

To be fair, it’s not as if the Red Sox bullpen was relinquishing nine-run leads from the first pitch of the season all the way until Game 162. In fact, the bullpen turned things around a bit following their aforementioned implosion on April 21. From April 23-May 25, the Sox ‘pen posted to lowest ERA in the big leagues. So while things may not have been as bad as they were that Saturday afternoon at the Fens in April, it’s fair to say that the Red Sox bullpen was much more of a weakness than it was an asset last season.

Just like 2012, this year’s Red Sox team lost their closer early. Joel Hanrahan was placed on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring on Tuesday. He is still experiencing soreness.

Hanrahan wasn’t available on Monday, and yes, Bailey blew his first save chance on Patriot’s Day against the Rays. But this year’s Red Sox are much more capable of dealing with the loss of a key member of their bullpen. With Hanrahan on the shelf, John Farrell has the luxury of turning to Bailey, a guy who the Boston Globe’s Chad Finn accurately characterizes as “a statistical comp for Jonathan Papelbon during his three seasons in Oakland.”

What if Bailey falters in the role? The Red Sox have options.

Tazawa has emerged as one of the most reliable options out of the bullpen, not only on the Red Sox, but in the entire American League. He has everything that a manager would look for in a closer–he has excellent stuff and refuses to issue free passes. Ideally, Tazawa will not be asked to close ballgames in 2013 but should Bailey and Hanrahan succumb to injuries or fail to perform, the Red Sox have a legitimate third option. Not many teams can say that about the backend of their bullpen.

Do the Red Sox have one of the game’s top tier closers like they did when Papelbon was still employed by the team? No. But they do possess a tremendous amount of depth that should only deepen as pitchers like Hanrahan, Craig Breslow, and Morales return from injury.

Baseball is a war of attrition, and the bullpen is certainly not immune. The 2013 Red Sox, unlike last year, stand a real chance to succeed in battle.

News on Baseball, the Red Sox

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Ahhh. That’s better.

After an absolutely brutal Sunday evening, it is important to remember that life goes on. You’ve got to be able to go out there and get ‘em the next day. So today, that’s what we’re going to do.

Mike Napoli and the Red Sox made their deal official last week. It consists of $5MM guaranteed for one year. The powerful right handed hitter will have the ability to make up to $13MM as long as he does not spend any time on the disabled list due to a hip injury. Expect the Red Sox to add some insurance at first base in case Napoli breaks down. A bit more on Napoli later.

Craig Breslow successfully avoided arbitration (and then some) as he and the Sox came to terms on a two-year pact worth $6.25MM on Saturday. The Red Sox possess a team option worth nearing $4MM for the 2015 season. Breslow was acquired by the Sox at the trade deadline last season from the Diamondbacks. The lefty specialist is a Yale graduate and a Connecticut native.

— Courtesy of the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham, here is the list of players that the Red Sox reached agreements with, avoiding arbitration:

OF Jacoby Ellsbury: $9 million
RHP Joel Hanrahan $7.04 million
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia: $4.5 million
RHP Andrew Bailey: $4.1 million
RHP Alfredo Aceves: $2.65 million
RHP Daniel Bard: $1.8625 million
LHP Franklin Morales: $1.487 million
LHP Andrew Miller: $1.475 million

— A couple quick notes on the arbitration process: Headlines are often misleading, especially for those who are not familiar with the the process. (As an aside, if you’re not well-versed in the stimulating world of salary arbitration, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Seriously.) For example, “Ellsbury signs one-year deal with the Red Sox worth $9MM.” That is true. He did. But it makes it seems as though he could have signed elsewhere. I saw a few people on Twitter who are fans of other teams saying things like “we easily could have gotten Ellsbury if the Red Sox only gave him a one-year contract!” Players who are eligible for arbitration are also under team control–they’re not free agents–it’s just a matter of negotiating salary for a one-year deal, like Ellsbury, or a multi-year agreement, like Breslow.

— Despite the fact that it took well over a month for the Red Sox and Napoli to finalize the deal that they first agreed to, in principle, on December 3, I never thought the two parties would go in different directions. The Red Sox needed Napoli to fill a gaping hole at both first base and in the middle of their lineup. As it turned out, Napoli needed the Red Sox to serve as a landing spot to rebuild value as a free agent. The Rangers approached Napoli about returning to Arlington but were ultimately turned away–not because he didn’t want to return to Texas but because he will have more of an opportunity to play day in and day out in Boston. Nolan Ryan and Co. do not have an obvious need at first base or catcher. It is easy to see Napoli spending 2013 here, experiencing success, and subsequently leaving in free agency, but I wouldn’t make that assumption. Napoli isn’t represented by Scott Boras, and 2013 could easily be the first year of a nice little marriage between the former Ranger and the Red Sox.

Francona: The Red Sox Years hits shelves on Tuesday. From everything I have heard/read, I think this book is going to be real good stuff. I wouldn’t expect Tito to expose John Lackey, Jon Lester, and Josh Beckett for drinking beer and acting completely unprofessional in the clubhouse during the 2011 season, but I would anticipate some great stories from the eight years he managed in Boston — some of which will be funny and entertaining while others make John Henry and Larry Lucchino look quite bad. No matter what, it will reaffirm what we already know–managing in Boston is not easy. The two book covers below illustrate that point. Long live Tito.

Advice for the Red Sox: Farrell, Morales, Ortiz

It’s not that these September games don’t matter at all. There is plenty of room for evaluating guys like Jose Iglesias, Ryan Lavarnway, and Ryan Kalish. However, every move that this organization makes going forward must be done with an eye towards the future. The 2012 Boston Red Sox are officially about the 2013 Boston Red Sox

Here are nine pieces of advice for a ball club in desperate need of putting its best foot forward.

—Do what you have to do to pry John Farrell from the Blue Jays. If Toronto’s GM Alex Anthopoulos demands a player like Clay Buchholz or even Daniel Bard (yes, that Daniel Bard), you move on–because that’s ridiculous. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Farrell should be the top candidate to replace Bobby Valentine.

—Bring David Ortiz back on a one-year deal. I love these tough-talkers who call into radio shows and proclaim how they’re sick of Ortiz, how he’s a baby, and the Sox need to move on. Get real. I wouldn’t necessarily offer him arbitration, but Ortiz has to be the anchor of that lineup next season. And remember: A pissed off Ortiz is a productive Ortiz.

—Sign Cody Ross this offseason and never let him play right field again. Ever.

—John Henry must empower GM Ben Cherington. He is an intelligent, qualified executive who deserves more autonomy. If that means somehow lessening the importance of Larry Lucchino, so be it. Wins are more important than selling commemorative bricks.

—Give Franklin Morales a fair shot to start in 2013. I’d go to battle with that guy as my fifth starter any day of the week.

—Integrate some patience this offseason. The Red Sox have gotten away from their bread and butter–taking pitches, working the count, and wearing down the opposition. You can get away with a couple of free swingers like Will Middlebrooks, but for every young, anxious hitter, you need two players who are willing to take what is given to them. ESPN’s Jeremy Lundblad explores this in more detail here.

—Trade Jacoby Ellsbury in the offseason. Fans will undoubtedly gripe, but it is the best decision. Here is why.

—Find a way to harness Alfredo Aceves. He is undoubtedly volatile, quirky, and, at times, troublesome. But he is a weapon, a guy who can pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen, spot start, or even close an occasional game. If he proves to be detrimental to the team, cut bait.

—Do not be afraid of bad publicity. When discussing the idea of firing Valentine before season’s end, WEEI’s Rob Bradford advocated the idea by saying “rip the band-aid off.” I don’t necessarily agree with firing Valentine now, but Bradford’s point is actually a good one. This organization has gotten away from what is most important: Assembling a quality team that is capable of playing consistently good team baseball. Are there going to be bumps in the road along the way? Sure. Rather than compromising what is best for the franchise in order to avoid a few potholes, hit them head on. Face the music and learn from the mistakes.

Quietly Unproductive

The Red Sox misbehaved. Their starting pitchers have been escorted to the principal’s office, while the members of the offense got to take their recess.

Somehow, the hitters have gotten off the hook. And I don’t believe that’s very fair.

The arms and the bats have worked together to get this team in the perilous situation it is in.

Have the starting pitchers, notably Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz, fallen well short of their preseason expectations during the first half of  the 2012 season? You bet. If you could augment only one area of this ball club as it is currently constituted, starting pitching would be the unanimous selection.

Pitching has been so consistently terrible throughout the course of the season that it has actually drawn attention away from the deficiencies of the offense. The first three weeks of the season, it was the bullpen taking the grenades. Alfredo Aceves and Co., have righted the ship, but the starters have not experienced the same success.

When one is asked about the failures of the 2012 squad, it is almost instinctual to immediately point towards the top of the starting pitching staff. The Red Sox have lacked consistency since the first toss towards home plate of the season was thrown in Detroit, but one theme for this team has remained the same–it is the pitching, not the hitting, that is to blame.

Beckett is an apathetic boat anchor on a staff that doesn’t need any help sinking. Buccholz cares more about vodka and partying than he does about the welfare of his team. Lester is fat.

These days, it seems as though whenever a starter not named Felix Doubront or Aaron Cook toes the rubber, fans, writers, and experts alike almost root, or at least expect, a poor performance. It has become trendy to hate the Red Sox, especially the three “aces”.

Whenever there is a scapegoat, there is a person or group of people tiptoeing away, looking over their shoulder, hoping that no one notices.

The point is not that the Red Sox lineup deserves the bear all, more, or even an equal share of the burden for the failures of the team as a whole. Instead, it is to highlight that its league-wide perception of being comprised of a group of hitters who consistently throw up crooked numbers against the opposition at will does not quite run parallel to the reality of the situation.

Let’s get a couple things out of the way now.

1) This is a lineup that has operated without two of its biggest offensive pieces for the majority of the season. Yes, it is true that Carl Crawford has yet to appear in a regular season game, and Jacoby Ellsbury has been sidelined since the home opener. Ellsbury’s absence has certainly taken a toll, especially when the Sox have faced right handed pitching. Crawford, on the other hand, is paid like a savior but is far from one. Evan Longoria, you’ll remember, has played in a grand total of 23 games for offensively bereft Rays. It wouldn’t be difficult to make a case that he is more vital to his team than any other player is to his respective squad in all of baseball. Have injuries negatively impacted this team? Of course. But don’t look to the DL for bailouts–the Red Sox have enough bullets in the chamber to spare a couple and still have enough to succeed.

2) The Red Sox offense, for all intents and purposes, has been good. Through 86 games, Sox hitters have produced 432 runs, good for second in Major League Baseball. At the same time, it is important to keep in mind that the Red Sox are stellar in blowouts and lackluster is close, grind-‘em-out games. They’re excellent at winning the contests that lack pressure and relatively poor in the white-knuckle affairs.

Despite the Red Sox statistically robust offense, they often corner themselves into situations that require a clutch hit in order to score a run. In other words, Sox hitters, in spite of those classic 10-5 wins, tend to put themselves in favorable situations at the beginning of innings, only to fail to produce productive outs in key situations that ultimately lead to a plethora of stranded runners and missed opportunities. 

Essentially, the Red Sox have a hard time hitting their foul shots.

Free and easy opportunities to score runs without getting a base hit do not often present themselves in close, well-pitched games. Let’s take a look at two recent, glaring examples that occurred in back-to-back innings in a game that should have been an easy win.

On July 3rd, while the East Coast was getting ready to celebrate its independence, the Red Sox were busy giving away a victory. In the top of the eighth inning, the Sox were clinging to a 2-1 lead. Here is how the inning unfolded:

Pedroia walk — Pedroia steal — Ortiz walk.

As a reminder, that is a runner on first and second with no one out, and Cody Ross due up. The best case scenario here is obviously a base hit by Ross. But here, expectations are not that high. It would be unfair to ask the powerful righty to lay down a bunt, and a ground ball to the right side could easily result in a double play. It is fair, however, to look for Ross, at the very least, to lift a semi-deep fly ball to right, right-center, or center field–all three of which would have resulted in Pedroia tagging up and getting to third base with less than two outs, a prime run-scoring position.

Instead, Ross failed to produce a productive out and struck out swinging. At this point, the Red Sox officially lost the opportunity to score a “free run”. They now needed a base hit to record any insurance in a tight ballgame.

Adrian Gonzalez came to the plate and drove a deep fly ball to center field, which is the exact result the Sox needeed one batter earlier. Pedroia tagged and went to third. First and third with two outs. Jarrod Saltalamacchia proceeded to strikeout looking to end what initially appeared to be an extremely promising inning.

Thanks to some nifty pitching in the bottom of the eighth by Vicente Padilla, the Red Sox headed to the top of ninth still gripping a one-run lead. Here is how the inning unfolded:

Ryan Kalish single — Mike Aviles walk.

Here we go again. First and second, no one out–a situation where the Red Sox had the opportunity to score a run without a hitter getting a base hit. Nick Punto is headed towards the dish, the players on the field and the dozens of people at Coliseum knew the bunt was coming. Punto squared and attempted the bunt, which was popped up and resulted in a double play for the Athletics. Kalish, for some strange reason, attempted to steal third and was promptly dispatched to end the inning.

Aceves went on to blow the save, as the Athletics came back to the tie and win the game in the bottom of the ninth. The loss went to Ace, but it really belonged to the Red Sox offense.

In close, well-pitched games, the margin for error is slim and opportunities are few and far between. Runs are often not doubled home or delivered by a round tripper. Instead, they are carved out by getting timely hits, earning walks, and selflessly finding ways to make productive outs.

The Red Sox have struggled against quality competition this season. According to the Boston Globe’s Tony Massarotti, they are 24-35 against American League teams who are at or above .500. The Red Sox are rarely able to match-up with the quality teams in their league. That is a fact. But it not just a pitching problem.

To pin the failures of this year’s Sox squad solely on the starting pitching staff is shortsighted, incorrect, and most of all, entirely too easy. It is the lazy fan’s excuse for why their team is perpetually treading water.

If the 2012 Boston Red Sox hope to succeed in the second half, it will be contingent upon their ability to find ways to beat quality teams. Improved starting pitching, combined with a more efficient offense will certainly increase their odds of nabbing a postseason berth.

Shopping for a Catcher

The Red Sox do not have a surplus of many of things. Wins are a good example of something they certainly do not have an excess of. Their outfield that once played host to Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury is now home to Daniel Nava and Ryan Sweeney. Alfredo Aceves was once a strong candidate to break camp as a member of the rotation. A freak thumb injury to Andrew Bailey, combined with Red Sox brass’ steadfast belief that Daniel Bard is best served as a starter, thrust Aceves into the role of closer. The minute they thought that had six viable starting pitchers, Aaron Cook’s knee was gashed by a spike, landing him on the disabled list.

The 2012 version of the Boston Red Sox is not exactly dripping with depth.

They do have catching, however. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is posting a so-so  slash line of .250/.281/.512. He has shown a knack for hitting the ball out of the ballpark on the young season. Salty’s gone bridge five times. The 27-year old was once a highly touted prospect and a former first round pick. He has the pedigree and is still developing at an extremely demanding position. Kelly Shoppach mashes lefties and seems to be vaulting into the position of personal catcher for Josh Beckett. It should not be ignored that on Monday night, Shoppach caught Jon Lester‘s complete game against the Mariners. Whether it is factual or not, pitchers seem to be more comfortable working with Shoppach. Finally, Ryan Lavarnway is biding his time at Triple-A Pawtucket. He certainly looks like the catcher of the future or at least a power bat from the right side.

Compared to the catching situations for the Angels and the Nationals, the Red Sox look like they have Ivan Rodriguez, Johnny Bench, and Yogi Berra.

In Washington, the backstops are dropping early and often. Wilson Ramos, a talented young catcher, is likely out for the duration of the season with a right knee injury. On Monday night, Ramos’ replacement, Sandy Leon, a rookie, fell victim to a high right ankle sprain courtesy of the Padres’ Chase Headley during a play at the plate. Out West, the Angels are suffering a similar fate. Chris Iannetta will be out for the best part of two months following wrist surgery. Their top catching prospect, Hank Conger, is currently on the shelf as well.

So this tweet from the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo does not come as much of a suprise:

Conveniently enough, as I mentioned previously, Shoppach caught Lester’s masterful performance last night. He also went very deep to left field, just for good measure. He is a veteran guy, playing under a one-year deal at short money. John Heyman of sees a tremendous amount of interest brewing around baseball in Shoppach.

This is an interesting situation for GM Ben Cherington and the Red Sox. It’s not like they are openly showcasing their catchers, but other organizations are in need, and, in this situation, the Red Sox have. But what does it all mean?

Ryan Lavarnway is not going anywhere. He hasn’t hit his stride in the International League as of yet, but he is as close to a proven commodity as a prospect can get. Saltalamacchia is not your typical bridge player. The Sox have Mike Aviles keeping Jose Iglesias‘ seat warm, but I do not get the impression that Salty is strictly a placeholder. That is not to say that he is untradeable. If the right deal came along, I believe Cherington would be willing to part with Saltalamacchia. That would be the ultimate vote of confidence for Lavarnway.

Shoppach is the most interesting piece in all of this. At first glance, he is the most tradeable catching commodity the Red Sox have. But is role on this team has expanded. Valentine openly stated that he was not in favor of his pitchers having personal catchers, but it would be moronic to say that Shoppach has not evolved into Beckett’s new version of Jason Varitek. After Lester’s best performance of the year on Monday, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Shoppach behind the dish for the lefty’s next turn.

It will be a curious situation to monitor over the course of the next several days. In all likelihood, the Red Sox will not make a deal. But I would be extremely surprised to hear that they did not listen.

Implications of a Friday Night in Chicago

The Red Sox won their fifth straight game last night as they downed the White Sox 10-3 for the second night in a row on their turf. David Ortiz hit his fourth home run of the season. It came against a relatively tough lefty in John Danks. The Sox offense once again held up their end of the bargain, throwing up a crooked nine runs on a very cold night at U.S. Cellular Field. It should be noted that the grinders at the bottom of the lineup were truly the ones who deserve a pat on the back. In the sixth inning, the Red Sox plated five runs, due in large part to some timely hitting from the latter half of the order. Specifically, Darnell McDonald once again proved that he is a more-than-serviceable off of the bench option in the major leagues as he smacked a clutch two-out three-run double down the left field line. McDonald has not received consistent playing time, so his performance on Friday night (he also hit a garbage time home run) is excellent news for a Red Sox bench that lacks a heck of a ton of firepower.

Daniel Bard threw seven strong innings, allowing three runs–only two of which were earned. The tall righty only issued one free pass. In this league, you’re better off making hitters earn their way on base. A good hitter posts an average of .300. The majority of the time, the guy is going to record an out. I say play the odds, especially when you have the raw stuff of a Bard.

I am convicted flip-flopper. A month or two ago, I firmly advocated for Bard sticking in the rotation. In my defense, I had no way of knowing that Andrew Bailey would have his debut in a Red Sox uniform delayed by three months due to thumb surgery. Even after receiving that devastating news and watching Alfredo Aceves struggle in the opening series of the season against the Tigers, I still argued that Bard should remain in the rotation. Just this week, however, I am on record as saying that Bard needs to take it upon himself to volunteer to return to the bullpen. Mark Melancon, a guy I truly counted on to serve as trustworthy arm out of the bullpen, turned into a puddle and was demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket, further decimating a watered down Red Sox bullpen that is in desperate need of stability. So I’m as guilty of flipping and flopping as one could be.

Here is the bottom line: For now, the Red Sox will attempt to have their cake and eat it too. They want to win ballgames now, while doing what is best for its future, which is keeping Bard on the path of evolving into a quality, low-cost, under team control starting pitcher. As long as the former Tar Heel continues to put together quality starts and the bullpen doesn’t implode like it did a week ago today, both Bard and the Red Sox will be happy.

Ultimately, for the Sox to be considered a legitimate threat in the postseason, Bard has to be pitching well. In high leverage situations. Out of the bullpen.

Sacrifice Leads to Success

It was Game 3 of the 2004 American League Championship Series. October 16, 2004. The Red Sox were down two games to none to the Yankees. The local nine were in the middle of receiving a black eye bludgeoning from the Bronx Bombers. For most, it was the precursor to yet another year flushed away, another close, but no cigar Autumn in Boston.

But something happened that night, something that will be forever forgotten by many in New England. Tim Wakefield approached Terry Francona and offered to relinquish his opportunity to start Game 4 in an effort to preserve the Red Sox bullpen. When the smoke cleared, Wakefield had taken a bullet for his team. He labored through 3.1 innings, allowing five runs. The Sox lost 19-8. However, Mike Timlin and Keith Foulke went unused, while Alan Embree did end up making an appearance but only faced four hitters. The Red Sox left Game 3 licking their wounds, but, because of Wakefield’s sacrifice, they were able to keep the stalwarts of their bullpen intact. It ultimately facilitated their ability to come from behind and defeat the Yankees in the best of seven series.

It wasn’t about Wakefield. It was about what was best for his team. It was about sacrifice.

And that is something that is sorely lacking on the 2012 Boston Red Sox.

This winter, the front office promised Daniel Bard an opportunity to serve as a starting pitcher. He sports an A+ plus fastball, an A slider, and a changeup that is more than serviceable. Beyond his raw stuff, Bard has the intelligence and makeup that can only boost his ability to start at the major league level. To put it simply, he is a bright kid with great stuff who deserves the chance to maximize his potential.

Ideally, Bard would complete the first step (in a multi-step process) in becoming a front line starting pitcher by tossing an uninterrupted 140-160 innings this season. This, before injuries and ineffectiveness plagued both Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon respectively, was going to be a difficult task.

The Red Sox did not pursue Jonathan Papelbon in free agency. At the same time, they agreed to move Bard from the eighth inning to the fifth spot in the rotation. First year GM Ben Cherington was tasked with replacing the final six outs in a ballgame. He did a seemingly fine job. In a pair of under the radar trades, Cherington acquired both Bailey and Melancon.

Problem solved, right? Ehh, not so much.

Bailey suffered a freak thumb injury just before the beginning of the season that will ultimately sideline him for roughly three months. Melancon is now in Rhode Island after a series of appearances in which he failed to do anything but struggle.

The Red Sox are now presented with the unenviable task of attempting to replace the replacements that were acquired to replace Bard and Papelbon. Alfredo Aceves and Franklin Morales are your 2012 version of Papelbon and Bard.

That’s ugly.

Bard is in an unique place. Unlike Papelbon, he is still a member of the Red Sox. According to Bard and the brass on 4 Yawkey Way, he is a starter. Nevertheless, his turn was skipped on Monday after a rain out on Sunday. In an interview on Sunday night, Valentine declared that Bard would be able to pitch out of the bullpen once or twice during the week while still retaining his position in the rotation.

Bard’s comments before Monday’s game against the Twins were quite telling.

“I already told them back-to-back is out of the questions for health reasons,” Bard said. “I haven’t thrown one back-to-back all spring. It wouldn’t be fair to ask me. They were totally in agreement on that one.”

Bard is telling management that working back-to-back days is out of the question. Bard, a guy who is entering his fourth, not his tenth, year in the big leagues, apparently believes that he calls the shots. It’s not about what is best for his team. It is about what is necessary for him to continue on the path of being a starting pitcher.

The Red Sox bullpen possesses quality firepower. The bullets, however, have simply not been allocated in the correct chambers. Franklin Morales has a live arm that would look nice in the sixth or seventh inning. Alfredo Aceves is an invaluable weapon who should not be closing. Instead, he should be serving as a multi-inning swingman who also has the potential to retire batters in high leverage situations

So why aren’t these bullpen pieces slotted correctly?

Because Bard has not stepped up.

The bullpen is decimated. Papelbon is in the National League. Bailey is recovering from thumb surgery. Melancon is attempting to regain his confidence in Pawtucket. There are no horses left in the stable. Only ponies remain.

Cherington and the Red Sox have some serious decisions to make. On May 1st, Aaron Cook, who is pitching extremely well in Triple-A, can opt out of his contract if he is not promoted to Boston. Cook could seamlessly enter the Sox rotation, and Bard could slide into the bullpen, which would provide the stability it desperately needs. In order for that to work, it would likely require Bard’s consent (as ludicrous as that may seem).

A move like that would require the same sort of selflessness that Wakefield gave to his teammates and the organization eight years ago.

A move like that would require sacrifice.

Ross Puts Sox on Back

Damn it. Wrong Ross.

Cody Ross slugged two home runs last night, helping the Red Sox snap a five-game skid. His first long ball tied the game in the seventh inning. It was two-run shot to left field that hugged the line. It had the distance. The only question was if it was going to stay fair or not. With two outs in the top of the ninth, and the game still knotted at five runs a piece, Ross took a low, outside pitch from Twins’ closer Matt Capps to deep right field for a solo home run. It was an impressive display of power by 2010 NLCS hero who is known as a predominately pull-hitter. Alfredo Aceves somewhat reluctantly shut the door in the bottom of the ninth, securing a much-needed 6-5 win for the local nine. Ross was the man on Monday night in Minnesota.

A few other observations from a Monday in Mauer country…

  • Before the season, Jon Lester made it abundantly clear that he would like to be mentioned among the game’s elite hurlers. Throughout the spring, Lester was the most contrite out of all of the pitchers who were accused of taking their foot off of the gas in September of last season. He seemed focused, primed for a big year. It may be time to abandon the thought that Lester will ever evolve into a true ace. As a caveat, when I refer to an “ace”, I don’t mean C.J. Wilson. I don’t mean Ricky Romero. When I talk about an ace, I’m pointing to C.C. Sabathia, Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, and the small fraternity of pitchers who instill a feeling of “yeah, we’re going to win today” in their teammates. Lester is very good, but he is not Roy Halladay. He’s not Cliff Lee. He’s not even Matt Cain. Kudos on settling down and giving your team seven innings but walking four and allowing five runs to the Minnesota Twins when your team desperately needs its stopper to stp up simply does not cut it. And let’s not even get into the fact that Lester has been spotted at least a two-run lead in the early innings of his last two starts. Squandered leads are not good for business in Boston.
  • It was nice to have Daniel Bard out of the bullpen again. It felt so good, so good, so good.
  • David Ortiz is absolutely raking right now. Even the outs he makes are hit hard. Watching him give the metaphorical middle finger to the shift is fun to watch. He looks like a smart hitter who is comfortable in his own skin.
  • Someone should tell Kevin Youkilis that the left side of the infield on the opposing team usually takes grounders before the game. He does not need to provide them fungo work during it.
  • Ryan Sweeney will likely never be a superstar or even a star, but he seems content hitting line drives and doing his job. I like that. (Clearly ignoring his mishap in right field last night. He can thank Bard for that.)

Pre-game Notes 4/11/12 — Red Sox vs. Blue Jays

Here are some quick pre-game thoughts as Daniel Bard takes the hill for the first time as a starter in the regular season. Rapid fire. Let’s go.

  • Nick Punto will fill in for Mike Aviles tonight. Aviles has a no-big-deal ankle issue. He turned it last night. Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston tweeted back to TSWD as to exactly when it occurred.

  • Ryan Sweeney was tabbed as a quality defensive outfielder who did not carry a big stick. Pfffff. So far so good from the big lefty. He has come up with big hits early this season. I like what I see, so far.
  • Expect a high scoring game tonight. Bard, like I said, is making his first start as, well…a starter. He’s been known to walk a guy or seven. He will likely be working with guys on base for the majority of the night. On the other side, Kyle Drabek is on the bump for the Jays, and the majority of the middle of the order hitters for the Sox have good numbers against him. I’ll take Sox tonight 8-6.
  • As always, it will be interesting to see how the game goes if the Sox are in a save situation. Alfredo Aceves notched a clean final frame last night. Keep an eye on how he performs in back-to-back save situations.
  • With the W last night, I hope this squad loosens up a bit. It’s important to have fun. And winning begets fun.

Monkey Off Back

It’s a win. It’s the first one. And I’ll take it.

I’m not sure if you could find two guys who, on the surface, are anymore opposite than Felix Doubront and Scott Atchison. Doubront is a Venezuelan 24 year old left handed  starter who is primed to make his imprint as a hurler this year. Atchison is right handed 36 year old Texas native who is a long reliever in the Red Sox bullpen. Typically, he is relegated to to mop-up duty when the Sox are ahead or down by a crooked number. It would be an understatement to say that the decision-makers on Yawkey Way have vastly different outlooks for these two players.

Just as Doubront and Atchison are starkly different, the pair is uniquely similar. Neither pitcher was guaranteed a major league job before Spring Training. Last night, however, the two went a long way in proving that they belong on the big club.

Doubront tossed five innings, allowed two runs, and struck out six Blue Jays. There were points in which the game could have gotten the better of the left hander, but he remained composed, giving the Red Sox a chance to win. Inefficiency, as it usually is with Doubront, limited him to five innings.

Cue Atchison.

With Vicente Padilla unavailable after pitching four valuable innings the day before in Detroit and Alfredo Aceves on hold until a save situation crops up, it was Atchison who Valentine wen with after Doubront finished his fifth frame of work.

The righty who is entering his third year with the Red Sox organization checked into the game and promptly diced up the Blue Jays lineup for three smooth innings. He fanned three Jays, permitted one hit, and cut his fastball masterfully.

The Red Sox offense rallied for three runs in the top of the ninth. Aceves closed the door. And Atchison was credited with the win.

He earned it.

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