Andrew Bailey’s struggles are twofold. Not only has his ineffectiveness cost the Red Sox, but his inevitable departure from the closer’s role throws the Boston bullpen all out of whack.
John Farrell has stood by Bailey during his recent struggles, but after another blown save on Thursday, it appears that the Red Sox skipper is eyeing a change. Someone else will likely take the mound the next time the Red Sox face a save situation.
But who will be the lucky guy?
That’s a difficult question that Farrell must now answer. Bailey clearly needs some time away from the high-stress nature of the ninth inning. His velocity is down, his control has been erratic and there’s reason to believe that the struggles are weighing on him mentally, even if he won’t admit such. That sure isn’t a recipe for closing out a ballgame.
But while the logical first step is to remove Bailey from the closer’s role, at least temporarily, the corresponding move could be troublesome.
On the surface, Koji Uehara looks like a great closer candidate for a few reasons. He has experience, having saved 13 games for the Orioles back in 2010, and he’s been fantastic this season. His ability to both strike hitters out and limit walks would be a sight for sore eyes after watching Bailey struggle to put the ball over the plate recently. The problem, however, is that Farrell typically doesn’t like to use Uehara on back-to-back days, and that could become an issue if he’s expected to consistently hold down the closer’s role.
Andrew Miller, who was actually warming up during the ninth inning on Thursday, is another option who’s intriguing because of his swing-and-miss ability. He has 43 strikeouts in 26 innings this season — which equates to 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings — and that’s something that could be extremely valuable in a tight game. The elephant in the room, of course, is the southpaw’s occasional lack of control, and the potential for a “Jekyll and Hyde” situation just seems way too high in his case.
That leaves Junichi Tazawa, who was anointed Boston’s closer earlier this season in Bailey’s absence, as the most likely closer candidate in the wake of the recent developments. He, like Uehara, can punch out hitters while limiting walks. And he’s pitched on back-to-back days on six separate occasions this season, so that shouldn’t be an issue.
Obviously, nothing should be ruled out. Farrell could also go with the old closer-by-committee approach, or he could really throw us a curveball and call upon Alfredo Aceves, who closed in 2012. Regardless of his decision, the situation won’t be ideal for the Red Sox.
The best-case scenario for Boston is that Bailey regains his form while pitching in a different capacity and is eventually reinserted into the closer’s role with a restored confidence. Until that happens, the Red Sox bullpen is going to be jumbled, and Farrell’s managerial skills will be put to the test.