Talkin Sox with Dan

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Archive for the tag “Daniel Bard”

Deep Depth

Photo via bostonherald.com

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

Photo via boston.com

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.

Power Plays

Photo via mlive.com

On Wednesday, the Red Sox officially addressed an area of surplus. They have a closer. Andrew Bailey is injury-plagued. There is no debating that. But he is a legitimate ninth inning pitcher, a former All-Star with 81 saves on his resume. The bottom line is that GM Ben Cherington did not need to bring in a proven closer this offseason.

But he did.

Joel Hanrahan was traded by the Pirates to the Red Sox in a six-player swap that will also send reliever Mark Melancon to Pittsburgh. The Red Sox still have not come to terms with free agent Mike Napoli, leaving a vacancy at first base. They remain shallow in the outfield with Jonny Gomes likely needing a platoon-mate that can do damage against hit right handed pitching. Clearly, Cherington still has several areas of need to address, yet he chose to actively pursue adding a late-inning arm to a bullpen that already has Bailey and Koji Uehara.

Why?

The answer has everything to do with Daniel Bard.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Red Sox possessed two of the game’s absolute best in the eighth and ninth innings. Bard and Jonathan Papelbon were a powerful one-two punch that helped former manager Terry Francona win more than a few games during the final segment of his tenure in Boston. Both Bard and Papelbon threw hard and threw strikes. The pair represented exactly what every team wants at the end of games.

In the offseason that followed the 2011 season, Papelbon left Boston for Philadelphia. Bard, who, despite fatiguing down the stretch for the Red Sox in ’11, seemed tailor-made for the closer role in 2012. His powerful stuff played well in the late innings of ballgames. Fans were used to watching him wiggle out of high leverage situations, using his fastball that consistently registered well above 95 MPH to blow away hitters on the regular.

But then the Red Sox got cheap, and Bard got a little greedy.

Cherington and the rest of baseball operations understood the potential payoff of converting Bard to a starter. Let’s face it — Bard made roughly $1.6MM in 2012. Good luck getting Hiroki Kuroda to pitch for your team for that salary. At the same time, Bard knew that starting pitchers do not need to pitch at the level of a Justin Verlander or a Clayton Kershaw to get paid. Pick up the phone and give Edwin Jackson a buzz. He will tell you all about his four-year $52MM deal that the Cubs gave him last week.

It was a perfect storm. Bard wanted to start, and the Red Sox saw it as a cost-efficient opportunity to fill a vacancy in the rotation.

Bard performed miserably as a starter. His outing on Sunday June 3 in Toronto was the breaking point of the experiment. In an inning and two-thirds, Bard walked six Blue Jays and plunked two others. It was like watching the goriest of horror movies, when one is only able to catch a glimpse of the television screen between fingers as their hands shielded their face. It was that bad. The whole thing was an unmitigated disaster that ultimately earned Bard a demotion to Pawtucket and a question mark when it comes to where he fits on this team in 2013.

The Red Sox subsequently spent their second straight offseason looking for ways to plug the gaping holes left by both Papelbon and Bard. Had the latter embraced the role of closer in the same fashion the former did, the Red Sox would likely not be participating in the annual game of bullpen pick ‘em. If Cherington and Co. had recognized that Bard’s stuff as well as his mentality is best suited at the end of ballgames, Hanrahan may not have been a trade target this offseason.

Removing Bard from the bullpen created quite a large void for the Red Sox–one that was only amplified by his abject failure as a starter. Since then, Cherington has been searching for that power arm that is almost always needed at the end of games. Simply put, swing and miss stuff limits the amount of balls that are put in play, and Bard certainly racked up a great deal of punch outs as a set-up man.

The addition of Hanrahan is yet another example of how poor baseball decisions can negatively impact a club for years down the road. Hanrahan’s performance in 2013, good or bad, will serve as a reminder of how sorely Bard is missed in the Boston bullpen and how desperately Cherington has searched for someone to anchor it.

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.

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 CBSSports.com 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.)

Back Peddling Into Monday

Yeah, that makes me feel better too. When times aren’t going well, whether it is in life or the state of my favorite sports teams, I never hesitate in turning to a photo of Ted Williams. The guy could make stacking wood look magical.

Now let’s get sad.

Boo Bobby Valentine. You have that right. Just understand that it doesn’t make sense. The guy has managed fourteen games in Boston. He has made some questionable decisions for sure (Justin Thomas in Toronto, Grady Little impersonation on Patriots Day with Daniel Bard, and Franklin Morales pitching to Mike Napoli). No argument there. But let’s look at the cards he has been dealt.

The Red Sox astutely decided that Jonathan Papelbon wasn’t worth $50MM. Brass determined that Bard deserved the chance to start. He has cream of the crop stuff, and he really wants to start. I’m okay with that. All of sudden, the Sox lost six very important outs. The eighth and ninth innings now had Help Wanted signs hanging.

Think about this. What would the Yankees do if before the start of the 2012 season, Mariano Rivera decided that his 48-year major league career was over and David Robertson desperately wanted a shot at a spot in the rotation? They would attempt to replace their end-of-the-game arms as best they could.

And that’s what the Red Sox did.

Andrew Bailey stepped into Papelbon’s shoes before injuring his thumb in a freak play at first base in Spring Training. Mark Melancon, a guy who turned out the lights on 20 ballgames for the Astros while posting a cool eight strike outs per nine frames last season, was brought in to secure the set-up role and serve as closer insurance for Bailey. Melancon promptly parlayed a pedestrian spring into a bed-wetting frenzy when the regular season commenced. If you need him, he’s in Rhode Island.

Is Bailey’s career littered with injuries? Absolutely. There is no doubt that I expected Bailey to spend some time on the disabled list this summer. Summer. Not before the season even started. Recently, I’ve heard people bash GM Ben Cherington on the Bailey signing because of his injury laden past. Those individuals would have a stronger leg to stand on if Bailey was on the shelf due to some sort of arm issue. But that’s not the case. Cherington can’t be faulted because Bailey needed thumb surgery.

Was there some concern about Melancon’s ability to pitch effectively in the pressure cooker that is the AL East? Sure. But unless you’re Miss Cleo, there is no way you could have predicted that he would have spent more time watching his pitches travel over the fence than into the catcher’s mitt.

Look, things are not good right now, but if the Red Sox want to put their best foot forward, it begins with Bard going back to the bullpen. Aaron Cook should slot into the rotation. It is the best way to add stability to a bullpen that is without any semblance of an identity.

I’ve abandoned my belief about Bard serving as a starter for the majority of this year. The Red Sox should too.

Put This One on Bobby

Well that didn’t go as planned.

The Red Sox notched their first win of the young season two nights ago. They pitched well and showed some late-inning heart with their bats. Naturally, as a fan, you expected the Olde Towne Team to parlay the momentum from Monday night into Tuesday. Two straight wins is one away from a winning streak, after all.

That didn’t happen.

Daniel Bard pitched fine. He induced a number of ground balls that found holes through the Red Sox infield. Bard certainly did not have a great deal of luck on his side tonight. Nevertheless, he pitched relatively well. The tall righty, however, was not the story.

The Red Sox lost 7-3 last night because of some gross mismanagement on the part of Bobby Valentine.

Let’s take a closer look.

With the score 3-1 in favor of the Blue Jays in the bottom of the sixth and Bard’s pitch count in the mid-80’s, Edwin Encarnacion walked. Promptly, Encarnacion stole second. Brett Lawrie followed with an infield single to shortstop that allowed Encarnacion to move to third. Runners on the corners. No one out. Left handed hitting Eric Thames due up.

Valentine came out to take the ball from a noticeably upset Bard–as a disclaimer, I don’t care if Bard wasn’t happy with Valentine’s decision–finish your start, and there isn’t an issue, Dan. The skipper summoned lefty Justin Thomas from the bullpen (more on this later). Thames, a left handed hitter who hits miserably against left handed pitching, was provided a free pass by Thomas. Bases loaded, still no one out. Valentine left Thomas in to face J.P. Arencibia. Matt Albers and his sinker was ready in the bullpen, but for some inexplicable reason Valentine pushed his chips in the pot with Thomas. Arencibia singled to right center, scoring two runs. Colby Rasmus would plate a run with a sacrifice fly. 6-1 Blue Jays.

Gag.

Here are the issues. Thomas should not be on this team. He’s a left handed pitcher. I get it. And it’s real neat. But he’s not a major league pitcher on the Boston Red Sox. Scott Atchison, like Thomas, does not have great raw stuff, but the former is a proven pitcher who has contributed on the major league level. Thomas, on the other hand, is a warm cadaver body that happens to use his left hand to pitch. That’s it.

Valentine and the Red Sox are carrying 13 pitchers. That is ridiculous. It is a noticeable flaw with this roster.

I can’t speak for Valentine, but I firmly believe that going to Thomas (and sticking with him) in a tight game is a result of the manager feeling like he has to keep his guys fresh. In the same fashion that Valentine used Nick Punto, Darnell McDonald, and Kelly Shoppach in Sunday’s game, he opted to go with (and stick with) Thomas tonight even though he may not have been the best option because he wants to keep his secondary players fresh. Unfortunately for Valentine, position players and bullpen arms are inherently different.

To summarize, Thomas should have never even had the opportunity to throw a pitch in a high leverage situation tonight. He should be in Pawtucket. That is on the guys in baseball operations.

Thomas should have gotten yanked after failing to do his job (walking Thames). That is on Valentine.

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