That being said, the total unit that this seemingly ramshackle group of relievers has created as a whole has really come into its own over the past few weeks, making one of the team’s major weaknesses in to a strength. And it all starts with the closer.
There are two events in the 2012 season which easily could have been the undoing of the Sox pen. The first was the infamous 9-1 blown lead to the Yankees back just over two months ago on April 21. The other, of course, was the loss of new closer Andrew Bailey, who didn’t even get to throw a single regular season pitch before being shut down with an issue with his thumb.
One of these incidents was a fundamental change in how the bullpen roles would be dished out. The other was just mentally demoralizing, the kind of loss that could haunt a team all season — especially when it was at the hands of the hated Yankees.
However, the current group has thrived, and it’s been led by two pitchers — Alfredo Aceves and Vicente Padilla — who spent all spring working out their arms preparing to start.
In the first month of the season, the Red Sox bulllpen allowed a horrendous WHIP of 1.80 and yielding an unwieldy ERA of 8.44. From that point on through June 19, however, the pen had allowed just a 2.01 ERA and an opponents’ batting average of .199.
On Tuesday, the bullpen threw 3 1/3 innings of relief for Daisuke Matsuzaka, yielding just one hit in a dominant performance. It’s almost the kind of effort that the Red Sox have come to expect since the pen’s tough going in April.
“It’s just part of the game, the rough start we had,” said Aceves, the anointed closer. “They all just want to pitch, it doesn’t matter what situation it is. We just want to win the game and be able to contribute to the team, to the win.”
That sort of ego-less attitude has certainly helped smooth things over as roles have become more defined. Though Aceves claims that such roles don’t matter to the bullpen, a pecking order has indeed been established, starting with Aceves and working down to Matt Albers, Scott Atchinson, Padilla, and so on. But just the fact that everyone has been flexible, and done whatever the team has asked, has helped the unit get to this point.
And for someone like Aceves, who is still in the process of adjusting to his new role, sometimes the most unexpected shift is just adjusting. The ninth inning can be a challenging role, so a closer certainly has to be on his toes in terms of dealing with different kinds of situations to protect the lead.
“You know, sometimes you don’t know what to expect,” said Aceves after the Red Sox 5-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. “You have to put it in the back of your head that there could be something unexpected. You have to prepare for the unexpected.”
Not to overuse the word, but there have been many unexpected happenings so far in the 2012 Red Sox season. Luckily for the team, it has a bullpen that’s willing to make the necessary adjustments.