Talkin Sox with Dan

Where baseball fans gather for commonsensical, opinionated Red Sox banter.

Archive for the tag “Matt Albers”

Hitting Quick on the Red Sox

Kevin Youkilis was activated on Tuesday and promptly participated in some heavy bridge work courtesy of Brian Matusz. Because my Little League All-Star team had more outfield depth than the Red Sox currently possess, Adrian Gonzalez started in right field, Will Middlebrooks held down the fort at third base, and Youk reclaimed the first base bag. I’m not a fan of of displacing Gonzalez for the sake of keeping better bats in the lineup. The Sox pitching staff isn’t exactly filled with Cy Young candidates and sacrificing defense surely won’t help Clay Buchholz‘s ever-rising earned run average. Nevertheless, I would rather have Gonzalez pushed to the outfield than Middlebrooks. So for now, I’ll accept the lesser of the two evils.

—Related to the above note, if you are someone who calls into radio stations, comments on blogs, or tweets to reporters stating that Player X should be able to play the outfield because Player X once played right field for his T-Ball team, please, for the love of Christ, stop.

—Bobby Valentine’s comfort level as manager of this team has certainly increased. It not out of the ordinary to see Valentine take a trip to the mound, speak with the pitcher, and head back to the dugout–without making a change. He gently slapped Matt Albers in the face within the past week. I like it.

Felix Doubront lacks efficiency, but man, the kid has some poise. He knows how to pitch. I feel pretty good when the Venezuelan toes the rubber.

—I had an interesting exchange with a friend of mine today about Jacoby Ellsbury. Essentially, his premise was that Ells’ injury can only hurt him at the negotiation table following his first crack at free agency after the 2013 season. In turn, that benefits the Red Sox. My counter was that I would rather have a healthy, productive Ellsbury while he is making roughly $8MM and under team control. We finally realized that we weren’t disagreeing with each other, but rather raising two extremely fair points. Ultimately, the Red Sox are losing out on valuable team-controlled years thanks to two freak injuries that have derailed significant portions of Ellsbury’s young career. Simultaneously, it would stupid for any potential suitor to not bring up Ellsbury’s injury marred past when he reaches free agency.

—I was at the afternoon game against Seattle, where Tim Wakefield was honored. Minus the tackiness of Doug Mirabelli busting out of a police car, it was a well put together ceremony.

—In the bottom of the sixth inning, Doubront and Adam Jones, who is awesome, engaged in a pretty good battle. It lasted eleven pitches. Doubront threw only two pitches out of the strike zone during the exchange–one of which was a pitchout. Ultimately, Doubront won the showdown, striking out Jones on a breaking pitch. Again, I was impressed by the young lefty.

David Ortiz held a players only meeting sometime after the first game of the four game set with the Indians a couple of weeks ago. Josh Beckett had just pitched like trash. Ortiz focused on the importance of accountability for each individual player and emphasis was placed on the pitching staff. Good for him. That is a guy is talking the talk and walking the walk.

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.

Remaking an Identity

Whether it was used in the context of consolation or with connotations of projected failure, one point has remained consistent since the end of the 2011 season: The 2012 version of the Boston Red Sox will look extremely similar on the field to last year’s team.

And that is largely true. Let’s give the diamond a once-over. Jarrod Saltalamacchia will be the starting backstop again. A healthy Kevin Youkilis will be stationed at third base. Shortstop has a statistical doppelganger to Marco Scutaro in the form of Mike Aviles. Dustin Pedroia is primed for another super solid season at second base. To Pedroia’s left is the ever-smooth Adrian Gonzalez. In right field, a platoon of the defensively astute Ryan Sweeney and soon-to-be fan favorite Cody Ross will make everyone really hate J.D. Drew. Jacoby Ellsbury will again roam the real estate in center field. Eventually, Carl Crawford will be back in the shadow of the Green Monster.

The starting pitching staff? Love ‘em or hate ‘em–the main pieces are still in place.

However, the bullpen, the special teams of baseball, has undergone a makeover. Every other aspect of the 2012 Red Sox looks extremely similar to the 2011 version. The guys sitting behind the fence in right field, on the other hand, are quite different.

Over the course of the past couple of years, fans had gotten used to the end-of-the-game routine. Eighth inning-straight gas from Daniel Bard-Ninth inning-a steady dose of fastballs and splitters from Jonathan Papelbon-Postgame-”I’m Shipping Up to Boston”. No matter how last season ended, no matter what you think of Papelbon in the wake of his comments about the intelligence of Red Sox fans–things were good. Really good.

Bard has traded the grittiness of being a bullpen guy for the routinized schedule of a fourth starter. Papelbon will close down games for the Phillies in the National League, and “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” will cease to play at the culmination of the ninth frame.

Instead, Mark Melancon, a former Yankee who was once deemed a potential successor to Mariano Rivera, will slot into Bard’s old role. Andrew Bailey, a two-time All-Star who was acquired from the Athletics, will be the new closer of the Red Sox. Bailey, a Jersey kid, will not have the Dropkick Murphy’s belting out lyrics for his entrance song.

Things are starkly different.

Alfredo Aceves has been downright dirty in game action this spring. Officially, he is competing for the fifth spot in the rotation. In reality, he will be in the bullpen serving as a guy who can flat get guys out. Michael Bowden is out of options and seems to have developed a nice relationship with manager Bobby Valentine as well as pitching coach Bob McClure. Oh, and he’s pitched pretty damn well. I’d expect him to earn a spot in the bullpen to begin the year. Vicente Padilla is a guy who is similar to Aceves. A bit hot headed? Sure. Tenacious? Oh yes. Versatile? You betchya. Let’s not forget about our old friends Franklin Morales, Andrew Miller, Felix Doubront, and Matt Albers.

The bullpen will undoubtedly appear much different than it was last year. Bard and Papelbon have had their spots replaced by Melancon and Bailey. However, the construction of a bullpen remains the same. For a general manager, like Ben Cherington, building a bullpen is a lot like playing the lottery. Sure you can pick the numbers you play, but the majority of your success depends on luck. Just as with all major league bullpens, there will be moving parts. What the Sox begin with, will not be what they end with.

In the end, it will be up to the kid from Jersey who grew up rooting for the Phillies to make fans forget about the guy who is now pitching in Philadelphia. It will be up to the guy who was once looked at as the heir apparent to the Rivera Regime in the Bronx to validate the decision that moved Bard to the rotation. It will be up to the rest of the guys to contribute when asked, throw strikes, and record outs.

After all, that is what being in the bullpen is all about.

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