Red Sox Bullpen Candidates Face Crunch Time, As Decisions Draw Nearer for Terry Francona, Theo Epstein

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March 24, 2011

Red Sox Bullpen Candidates Face Crunch Time, As Decisions Draw Nearer for Terry Francona, Theo Epstein JUPITER, Fla. — No final decisions were made Thursday regarding the intense competition for Red Sox bullpen spots. However, the massive amount of activity in a span of about 48 hours could cause some movement.

While Clay Buchholz and four relievers made the trip to Jupiter to take on the Florida Marlins on Thursday, seven pitchers will get work in at the minor league complex in Fort Myers. Two more — Andrew Miller and Alfredo Aceves — will throw on Friday at the complex.

Maybe then some of the dust will settle.

"Next couple of days I think a lot of stuff will start sorting itself out," manager Terry Francona said from Jupiter on Thursday morning.

Among those slated to relieve Buchholz on Thursday is Matt Albers, who is very much in the mix for an Opening Day roster spot. Pitching across state in minor league games are Tim Wakefield, Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, Scott Atchison, Rich Hill, Hideki Okajima and Felix Doubront.

Only Papelbon and Bard are definites for the bullpen, while Wakefield and Okajima are likely to break camp with the club. Atchison established himself with the club last season and Hill has had a very good spring. Doubront is attempting to work his way back from some elbow issues early in camp.

Francona admitted Thursday that the organization has to consider whether players have options or not. Someone like Albers, who is out of options and on the 40-man roster, would be exposed to waivers if he is ever sent down.

Atchison has options, making him a candidate to provide bullpen depth at the minor league level, at least to start the year.

"We certainly have to think about that," Francona said of the options situation. "If I said we didn't, that's a flat-out lie. That's where [general manager Theo Epstein] comes in and explains … this is what we have, or could have or could lose [through waivers]."

A pitcher's track record is rather critical in making the tough decisions, Francona said. This could help out a guy like Dennys Reyes, who has appeared in 669 games in his major league career and has enjoyed some very good years of late.

Regardless, the final games of the Grapefruit League schedule are akin to the last few moments of a stressful job interview for a handful of bullpen candidates. Francona can see it in their faces.

"It's real season," he said. "That's why I try to be careful what we say because I try to be respectful. You see everyone coming out and having fun but these guys wake up every morning and every time I walk through the clubhouse they're waiting to see if I'm coming.

"That's a tough, that's hard," the skipper added. "I've been through it, that's hard. We're four days from breaking camp … and they still don't know where they're going. That's hard."

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