The final days before the 2012 season begins are starting to feel like a thumb in the eye for the Boston Red Sox.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Beckett’s bothersome right thumb was not expected to keep him from starting Boston’s second regular season game on Saturday game in Detroit.
But Bailey might not be so lucky. He traveled to Cleveland on Tuesday to get a second opinion from Dr. Thomas Graham, but Tuesday afternoon, new Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said his closer could be out “a while.” The Boston Globe has also reported that Bailey will need surgery.
So where does that leave Boston, which saw longtime closer Jonathan Papelbon sign with Philadelphia this offseason?
With Valentine’s decision to move former set-up man Daniel Bard into the starting rotation, the Red Sox appear to have two options to fill the void.
Mark Melancon: The 27-year-old right-hander made 71 appearances for the Houston Astros last season, earning 20 saves in 25 tries and posting a 2.78 ERA. While his rate of 3.1 walks per nine innings is high, his 8.0 strikeouts per nine rate is solid, and he has experience in the closer’s role.
Alfredo Aceves: The big 29-year-old righty was one of the most reliable middle relievers in the majors last season, pitching 114 innings in 55 appearances and posting a 2.61 ERA with a surprising 10-2 record. His walk (3.3/9) and strikeout rates (6.3) are not ideal and he only has four saves for his career, but Aceves has shown an ability to get clutch outs. He spent his first three major league seasons with the Yankees before joining the Red Sox last season, giving him the experience in the pressure-packed American League East that Melancon lacks.
Early signs indicate Melancon will be the guy to replace Bailey, despite the fact that Valentine told reporters he was waiting to sit down with the fill-in closer before naming him publicly. Aceves may have broken the news himself on Monday when he told reporters he’d been told to be ready to start Saturday in case Beckett’s injury forces him to miss his scheduled outing.
Aceves was in the running for the fifth spot in Boston’s starting rotation this spring, and — with the exception of a poor outing against the Phillies in which he allowed nine runs in three innings — allowed only two runs. Meantime, Bard allowed three or more runs in each of his last four starts. But in the end Valentine went with the 26-year-old Bard, noting the need for a reliable pitcher like Aceves in the bullpen.
Valentine indicated he would try to avoid the dreaded closer-by-committee approach.
“I’d like to think of it as we’ll have a plan where there’ll be a person that we’ll have designated for that role with others who can do it when he’s not available,” Valentine said Tuesday, “if it all falls in line perfectly.”
As the Boston Globe reported, the Red Sox will exercise more precaution with their thumbs going forward.
“Interesting, isn’t it?” Valentine said. “No thumb wrestling is allowed. We took that out of the program.”