Bobby Valentine says, ‘’Bullpens can win you championships.’’
And the flip side is that bullpens can lead to your demise.
The new Red Sox manager will not be afraid to use his relievers as often as physically possible.
His bullpen coach with the New York Mets was Randy Niemann, who is now the assistant pitching coach for the Red Sox.
Niemann joked, ‘’The only comment I ever made on Bobby is when we went to Atlanta when that stadium first opened up, and we noticed there were three mounds in the bullpen, and I said to the guys, ‘Don’t tell Bobby — he’ll have three guys warming up at once.’
‘’Other than that, he’s pretty normal.’’
Niemann said Valentine isn’t much different from most major league managers; if your bullpen stinks, your team is likely to suffer.
In Boston, Valentine inherits a bullpen that has lost Jonathan Papelbon, the team’s career saves leader. He was replaced by Andrew Bailey, who was a two-time All-Star with the Athletics but comes with an injury history, particularly regarding his elbow.
Valentine has said he would never remove a pitcher from a starting role simply because he was more valuable in the bullpen. But he may have just such a pitcher in Alfredo Aceves, who was used by former manager Terry Francona in a variety of ways, though not in the starting rotation.
Valentine loves flexible relievers who can go multiple innings. He hopes that Vicente Padilla, a former starter, can be that kind of pitcher — work two or three middle innings and even be used late in the game.
However, when asked whether Padilla could be this year’s Aceves in the bullpen, Valentine said, ‘’I don’t think so. I don’t know. I haven’t heard anything from him to indicate that he could be.’’
With Valentine, it’s all about a pitcher showing confidence. He needs to see it from Bailey and he certainly needs to see it from setup man Mark Melancon.
Franklin Morales will likely be Valentine’s primary lefthander out of the bullpen until Rich Hill is ready to return from Tommy John surgery. Valentine has righthander Matt Albers for long relief and mopup.
And of course, this is the season that Daniel Bard is transitioning from setup man to starter.
The manager won’t hand a out a role without a pitcher proving what he can do.
‘’He’s more about the individual and what they can do,’’ Niemann said. ‘’In New York, our closer Armando [Benitez] was great three or four days in a row. The fifth day we tried to shy away from it, but when you’re playing the game and trying to win the games, we did it, and we had a guy who wanted to do it.
‘’Bobby isn’t one way or the highway. He sees what he has and he suits things to what he has to work with. It’s more about the individual player than what his style is.
‘’He wants everyone to be the most effective they can be. If that means they need another day rather than going three, four days in a row, then he’ll give them that day.’’
Niemann emphasized that Valentine likes versatility.
‘’The one thing about the bullpen is, ‘This guy is a setup guy or seventh-inning guy ...’ Well, sometimes your setup guy pitches in the seventh inning, too,’’ Niemann said. ‘’You can’t really designate that once the season gets going and guys get work and you get to that point where you need to give them a day off.
‘’That means someone has to pitch who doesn’t normally pitch in that role. Bobby’s very smart about using guys.’’
There is no doubt that Valentine loves lefthanded specialists.
In New York, he used Dennis Cook for 70-plus appearances in 1998-99 and 68 in 2000.
If Valentine has a reliever he feels can handle the workload, he’ll go to him often. He loved using righthander Turk Wendell, who made 80 appearances in 1999; Benitez, also a righty, made 77 appearances that season and Cook made 71.cq
In Texas, Valentine had lefthanders Mike Jeffcoat and Jamie Moyer, who made 23 relief appearances in 1990. He also had lefty starter Kenny Rogers.
Valentine felt Cook was a true lefty specialist, and he sees a similar role for Hill.
Otherwise he said, some of his other lefties like Mitch Williams or John Franco, ‘’who was a lefty who was better against righties’’ is likely the type of lefty he will have. Franklin Morales is that type of a lefty.
Yet, said Valentine, ‘’I don’t like lefties just for the sake of having a lefty. A lot of good lefthanded hitters hang in there pretty well against lefty pitchers. You’re not going to get them out just because you’re a lefty.’’
Of course he last managed in the majors in the National league with the Mets where bullpens are likely used more and differently because of the need to pinch-hit for the starting pitcher.
As far as specific bullpen roles on the Sox, Valentine said, ‘’It’s not going to be that everybody in the bullpen can pitch at any time. They’ll be designated when the season starts. I don’t know that it’ll be ‘you have sixth inning or you seventh inning.’ We may have more than one guy up, and that’s something that hasn’t happened here lately.’’
That goes back to Niemann’s comment. If Valentine could have three pitchers warming up, he would. Even having two up can be unusual these days because relievers have become sensitive about having to warm up and then not being used.
‘’Seems like I saw it a few times the last couple of years,’’ kidded Valentine. ‘’If it’s not allowed, I’ll have to revisit my planning.’’
But he added, ‘’Two righties warming up at the same time, I don’t totally get that. I would think a lefty and righty in the middle of the game is something I would do.’’
Suffice to say, Valentine loves to use his bullpen. His pitchers had better be ready, because they’re going to be called upon — maybe more than they’ve been used to.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.