BOSTON — With all the holes the Boston Red Sox had to fill entering this past offseason, closer probably wasn’t on top of the list for most fans. Although Andrew Bailey had endured a rough 2012 campaign, he never really got his feet under him after returning from surgery on his right thumb late last season.
Nonetheless, when former Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan become available over the winter, the Red Sox jumped at the chance to acquire him, and now the Red Sox essentially boast two closers holding down the eighth and ninth innings. Of course, not all closers have fared well when losing that role, but Bailey looks primed for a big season in a setup role despite losing the only job he’s ever known in Major League Baseball.
“I don’t really see too much trouble in that transition,” said Bailey after Monday’s 3-1 home-opener win over the Orioles. “You still have a job to do, you’re the closer of the eighth inning, or however you want to say it. But you’ve got to pick up the team, the only difference is you have someone behind you. You’ve still got to keep the score the same, and you still have to execute pitches.”
In Bailey’s mind, there isn’t much difference between the eighth and ninth innings in terms of pressure. While some former closers talk about not being able to get as amped up as a setup man, that clearly won’t be a problem with Bailey.
“It’s the same,” said Bailey. “You blow a game in the eighth, yeah, you have an extra AB, but you’re still on the hook. That’s what we talked about as a bullpen, keeping the score where it is, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Keeping the score the same shouldn’t be much of a problem for the Red Sox, for the most part. Although the team lead the American League with 22 blown saves in 2012, the revamped unit has looked good so far this season. In six games heading into Monday, the unit had struck out 19 batters in 18 2/3 innings, allowing an opponents’ batting average of just .221.
“I think we’ve got seven closers down there,” said Bailey. “Any one of us can finish a ballgame or pitch whatever inning, and that’s what makes us so good is having so much versatility down there. If you need guys to come in with runners on, whatever the situation is, you’ve got a [bullpen] full of them.”
All in all, Bailey uses the phrase “have a job to do” often. It may be a cliched talking point, but it’s also the kind of focus Red Sox fans will be happy to see from their new setup man. While Bailey has admitted he might prefer closing games, he isn’t deluding himself into thinking his new role is any easier, and he seems mentally prepared to be a part of a bullpen culture shift from last season.