ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Nobody is suggesting that the Red Sox need to put together a package of prospects and send them off to Philadelphia for Jonathan Papelbon.
At least not just yet.
Andrew Bailey had a rough outing Monday night when he blew his second save of the season in eight chances. That’s not a bad ratio, but when you’re a first-place team that seems to have good starting pitching and a good lineup, you always want to make sure you have a top closer as well.
Is Bailey up for the task?
While we can question and wonder if he can do the job over the long haul, he does have an impressive résumé that includes two All-Star appearances while with the A’s. Trouble is that résumé was amassed in Oakland. His slate in Boston reads entirely different — he missed nearly all of 2012 to injury and lost the closer’s job in 2013 to Joel Hanrahan, who in turn required Tommy John surgery and is out for the season.
Thus, the job went back to Bailey.
Forget the doubts about Bailey being able to pitch in Boston. He’s a New Jersey kid, not a softie from the West Coast. So take the toughness factor out of it. We’re going to find out over the next few weeks whether he’s good enough. And that’s all that matters. Can he consistently save games for the Red Sox?
Baseball people will tell you nobody brings a team down more than a bad closer. The Rays are experiencing this with Fernando Rodney, who has already blown five saves. The Red Sox got him Monday night, scoring twice off him in the 10th inning to take an 8-6 lead only to have Bailey give it back and almost lose the game outright in the bottom of the inning.
Luckily for Bailey and the Red Sox, they won the game. Otherwise, Bailey’s blown save would have stuck out even more.
A couple of scouts representing one American League and one National League team don’t believe Bailey will be effective. They think he’s shaky; not dependable enough.
Red Sox manager John Farrell was asked whether the outing was an aberration or something to be concerned about. Well, you can guess which option Farrell chose, even blaming the bad showing on the 24-pitch outing Bailey had the day before against the Angels.
Bailey walked three Rays and allowed a home run to Jose Lobaton.
“It was one of those games,” Bailey said. “To be a reliever, you have to have a short memory. In my mind, I didn’t do my job [Monday] night. If I get the opportunity I’ll go out and do it. We didn’t lose the game, but I didn’t do it. We have a lot of season left to play, so you can’t linger on one game.”
Bailey’s numbers are competitive with other closers. His two blown saves this season have come against the Rays. He’s sixth among relievers with a 12.6 strikeouts per nine innings. He hasn’t allowed a run in 16 of his 20 outings and over his career he’s converted 86.1 percent of his save opportunities, which is eighth among active closers with 80 or more saves.
But injuries have been a concern. He missed most of last season after having thumb surgery. He missed time this season with a right biceps strain. Health has to be paramount for a closer, which is what made Papelbon so valuable for the Red Sox.
The fear is overwork will lead to another injury, but Bailey just wants to move on from the physical limitations and pretend none of it ever happened.
“I wouldn’t be out there if I didn’t feel good,” Bailey said. “Just got to execute. In my mind, the pitch to Lobaton was a good pitch down in the zone. He did his job and barreled it up. After that the wheels fell off with control. Today is a new day.”
It frustrated Bailey to no end to know that the Sox’ offense had just penetrated what can often be a wall of nastiness with Rodney. You saw Bailey muttering to himself on the mound.
“Our team fought back against their best reliever. All I had to do is close it out, and I didn’t,” he said.
And so, yes, Bailey does need to prove he can do the job for the Red Sox, though when asked if he feels he needs to prove anything he said, “I think the organization knows what I can do.” Certainly that’s true, but he hasn’t done it for any length of time here.
Red Sox management had questions about Bailey’s ability to do the job this offseason. After Bailey came back from his thumb surgery in August, he didn’t pitch very well. GM Ben Cherington then pulled the trigger on the Hanrahan deal with Pittsburgh with the idea that Hanrahan, in the final year before free agency, would excel and Bailey could be the set-up man and wait in the wings should Hanrahan leave as a free agent after the season.
The Hanrahan injury thrust Bailey back into the spotlight after he returned from the disabled list.
So now we’re back to another guy who was supposed to replace Papelbon.
If Papelbon had been re-signed, there would be no worries. He’d be closing games for a good rotation and a good team in general.
On a team which seems to have a lot going for it, Bailey will remain under a microscope. He has his doubters who ask, can he do the job over a full season? Can he stay healthy?
Bailey will hear these questions all season, until he can silence them once and for all.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.