Bailey shut the door on another Red Sox victory on Wednesday, marking his fifth save in six chances since taking over the closer’s role in the wake of Hanrahan’s injury. Bailey struck out the Athletics in order, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that manager John Farrell will have a major decision to make once Hanrahan is ready to return.
But the decision, while major, shouldn’t be difficult. Bailey is the guy.
Farrell hasn’t made a decision either way, and there’s still a chance Hanrahan could retain his closer’s job when he returns, but Bailey’s recent stretch is enough to justify him becoming a permanent ninth-inning fixture. The right-hander has converted his last five save opportunities, his ERA is down to 1.59 and his WHIP sits at an impressive 0.79. With three strikeouts on Wednesday, 11 of the 18 outs Bailey has recorded in his last six appearances have been by way of the K.
Simply put, Bailey is the hot hand. And when it comes to big league closers, you can’t go wrong with riding that type of momentum. You can certainly go wrong with reverting back to what didn’t work to begin with, though.
This isn’t to say Hanrahan is incapable of being Boston’s closer, but opting to go with him over Bailey wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense at this point. The current formula is working, Hanrahan will almost certainly need to be eased back into things, and Farrell has already established a culture of rewarding those who produce. (See: Daniel Nava and Allen Webster.)
Bailey has produced, and he therefore deserves to keep the closer’s job until he falters. With the way he’s looked, he might not falter any time soon.
“He’s pitched with no restrictions physically, first and foremost,” Farrell said after Wednesday’s game. “He’s back to the level in which he was a two-time All-Star — aggressive, multiple pitches for strikes and even with the energy in which he does execute, he’s able to make a secondary pitch, as we saw today with the two 3-2 breaking balls. Even though when you look at him, he looks like he’s pitching with his hair on fire, he’s out there with a definite plan and he’s able to execute.”
While Bailey struck out the side on Wednesday, it didn’t come easy. He went to a full count against John Jaso and Jed Lowrie, and Lowrie nearly dropped a double down the right-field line. In the end, though, Bailey didn’t break despite bending, and that’s the mark of a successful late-inning hurler.
“Even when he was in the eighth inning this year before Joel went down, he’s pitched with the same intensity,” Farrell said. “It hasn’t been a reason because it’s the eighth inning or the ninth inning, but with the amount of experience he’s got in the late innings, he feels very much at home shutting the game off.
Bailey continues to take the questions he’s asked about the closer’s role in stride, understanding that the best way to win the job is to go out and pitch well. Even if Hanrahan currently holds the edge in the positional battle, Bailey can really test Farrell’s hand by continuing his success. From the sound of it, Bailey is focused on controlling what he can control.
“It’s a job. You’ve got to go out there and throw up a zero no matter what inning it is,” Bailey said. “Of course, there’s going to be a little bit more adrenaline [in the ninth inning], but I’m a high energy guy out there anyway. Whether it’s the eighth or ninth, I take the same mentality out there and, like I said, everybody wants to be the closer and wants to pitch the ninth inning, but right now, I’m the guy.”
Bailey is the guy right now, and he should also be the guy for as long as he’s getting the job done. When it comes to Hanrahan, some may argue that you shouldn’t lose a job because of an injury. This isn’t really an instance of Hanrahan losing the job, though. It’s a matter of Bailey winning it.
For now, until a decision is made, the elephant will just keep on posting up against that back wall.