Talkin Sox with Dan

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Archive for the tag “Justin Thomas”

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.

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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