Andrew Bailey’s Rough Patch Raises Questions, But Red Sox Should Be Patient With Closer

Andrew BaileyNo one said that it was going to be easy.

The Red Sox have overcome almost everything thrown their way thus far — except for the Orioles. The O’s took three of four from the Sox over the weekend, and they’ve now taken five of the clubs’ seven matchups this season.

Baltimore’s offense packs quite the punch, and the team’s pitching seems to be improving. That’s no reason to panic, but it certainly shows that we’re in for a dogfight in the American League East. We’re not even halfway into the year, and it’s already reasonable to think that this division could be settled over the last few days in September.

Perhaps we’re getting a little bit ahead of ourselves, though. There’s a lot to talk about as it pertains to the here and now. That was obvious while looking over this week’s mailbag responses.

Speaking of which, why don’t we just dive in head-first, rather than waste time dipping our toes?

What is going on with Jon Lester?
— Brenda Rose Russell

I don’t know — that’s about as honest an answer as I can give you.

Jon Lester’s recent struggles are startling, but the left-hander is fine physically, and everything seems to be in order mechanically. In fact, Lester said after Sunday’s start against the Orioles — during which he allowed five runs on nine hits while striking out eight and not walking a batter — that he thought his cutter and four-pitch command were the best he’s had all season. Yet despite the confidence, Lester found himself on the losing end again, bringing his record to 0-4 over his last six starts.

Figuring out the root of Lester’s woes is difficult, but there are a couple of concerning trends that have plagued the two-time All-Star during this recent stretch. There’s the increase in the number of walks, although he cut those out of the equation on Sunday, and there’s the rising home run total.

Lester seems to have battled through his command issues. He took a big step forward on Sunday after walking a career-high seven batters in his start against the Rays last Tuesday. He’ll need to maintain that consistently, though, while also keeping the ball in the yard, which has become problematic. Lester has given up six long balls over his last three starts, and anyone who watched last season’s debacle — during which he surrendered a career-high 25 home runs — will tell you that the big fly was public enemy No. 1.

Following Lester’s losing effort on Sunday, Red Sox fans are certainly faced with a glass half empty or glass half full scenario. The lefty made strides, which is encouraging, but the overall results still weren’t there, making the entire situation even more perplexing.

Click here to read more about Lester’s struggles >>

If the Red  Sox need an outfield call-up, how about Bryce Brentz?
— Tom Oleary

Bryce Brentz is really intriguing because he possesses exactly what the current Red Sox’ offense lacks — power.

Boston’s offense has been terrific this season, but if there’s one knock on the unit, it’s that there isn’t a huge middle-of-the-order presence from the right side of the plate. Mike Napoli has shown flashes of being that guy and Will Middlebrooks should be that guy, but the Red Sox’ offense still hasn’t found a big right-handed bat to complement the left-handed hitting David Ortiz.

With that said, don’t expect Brentz to burst onto the scene any time soon.

First, he’s not on the Red Sox’ 40-man roster, so the club would have to make a corresponding move to clear a spot for him. That seems unlikely at the moment.

And second, while Brentz is playing very well and showing an ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark at Triple-A, there’s still room for improvement. He needs to keep working on his overall plate discipline, and having him do so away from the big league club makes the most sense.

Jackie Bradley Jr. remains minor league outfield option No. 1 at this point.

If Dustin Pedroia was a Bruin, which player would he be?
— Evan Walsh

Patrice Bergeron — excellent defensively, very productive offensively, capable of making the big play when it counts and full of grit. Each is the heart and soul of his respective club.

If Dustin Pedroia played the Yankees — keeping in mind it’s just Dustin Pedroia versus the Yankees — what would the score be?
— Christopher M Evans

Infinite? I don’t know. Is this one of those “if a tree fell in the woods” riddles?

Andrew Bailey is way too erratic at the moment. Can he settle down and close, or do the Red Sox need to go in another direction?
–Neil Axelrod

In general, I think the patience that Red Sox fans have with Andrew Bailey is very thin (perhaps too thin). It obviously comes with the territory, but everything works against Bailey, especially when the going is bad.

Bailey’s predecessor (Jonathan Papelbon) is one of the game’s best closers, Bailey hasn’t been able to consistently stay healthy since being acquired via trade and offseason addition Joel Hanrahan already gave Sox fans some sleepless nights early on this season. Roll all of this up into a giant ball, and you can see why the slightest hiccup from Bailey has fans reading him his last rites.

Looking at the overall package, though, I think Bailey deserves a chance to work through his issues. You’re right in that he’s been erratic of late, but he has good stuff, he’s proven to be an All-Star caliber closer in the past and he’s had a good season for the most part. There’s a decent chance that this is simply a short, temporary slump — if you can even call it that.

“I’ve just got to put a halt to this little bad spell I’ve been having,” Bailey said after Saturday’s game. “I’ve been missing in bad spots. Got to just focus on the glove a little more and throw better pitches. Everyone goes through a kind of rough patch, and mine has to stop today.”

Now, does this mean Bailey is exempt from criticism or concern? Of course not. If he doesn’t show improvement, then the Red Sox will absolutely have to give strong consideration to other options, especially since they figure to contend and Bailey lacks playoff experience. Before jumping ship, though, the Sox should see what they’ve got, even if it requires a little patience and some faith in June and July.

Simply put, it’s too early to give up on Bailey as the team’s closer. Check back in a month or so.

Does Koji Uehara have staying power?
— Karen Glynn Webb

Absolutely. (If by “staying power,” you mean he’ll keep up his consistency throughout the entire season.)

Uehara has been fantastic this year, although it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise because he’s been an excellent reliever throughout his major league career. He’ll continue to be a huge part of the Red Sox’ bullpen.

What makes Uehara so special is that he consistently pounds the strike zone, and he gets batters to swing and miss. When it comes to late-game, high-leverage situations, you can’t ask for much more, and John Farrell has shown plenty of confidence in the 38-year-old.

Plus, his enthusiasm is just awesome.

Hopefully you can explain something to me. I disagree 100 percent with these scheduled days off for the Red Sox starters. C’mon, give me a break, these “stars” should not want a day off unless there are injuries involved. I mean if they were 20 games ahead, I might understand it a little better, but would still disagree. The possibility exists that if they want a day off, they will have all they want in October!!!!!!!
— Joseph Pillarella

It’s not your fault.

When are the Red Sox going to move Xander Bogaerts to third base? Dude is going to be a player. I just don’t think shortstop is where it will be.
— Jerry Heath

You’re not the only one who feels this way, and it looks like the Red Sox are opening up to the idea of moving him.

Bogaerts figures to see time at shortstop, third base and even second base while with Pawtucket. The idea is to expose him to multiple positions so that he’s a more versatile option for the major league club if something goes awry. The approach makes sense given how important Jose Iglesias’ newfound versatility has become.

I think Bogaerts moving around also puts pressure — perhaps in a positive way — on some players, especially Will Middlebrooks. Middlebrooks didn’t really have any third base competition earlier this season, meaning his job was among the safest on the Red Sox. Things are starting to change, though, and if Middlebrooks doesn’t pick things up, Bogaerts’ time to shine could come sooner than expected.

Click here to read more about the Bogaerts situation >>

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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