June 5, 2011

On Baseball: Building of a bullpen never ends

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BOSTON - Rich Hill threw the pitch, grabbed his elbow and paced around in obvious pain Wednesday.

"I don't ever want to see that happen to anybody on either team," said his Red Sox teammate and reliever, Daniel Bard.

Hill left with a trainer after facing one batter in the seventh inning of a 7-4 loss to the White Sox.

But he might be OK.

"They think it was just scar tissue that popped," Bard said. "Hopefully that's the case."

Hill still could spend time on the disabled list -- the fifth reliever to do so this year.

Bullpens are always under construction. But it seems the Red Sox are building and rebuilding more than expected.

"Pretty standard for a bullpen," countered Bard. "You're going to go through a lot of guys."

The Red Sox have used 14 relievers this season. They probably have at least three or four more options in Pawtucket, and another in Portland.

Only Bard and closer Jonathan Papelbon have been in the bullpen since Day 1, and both have had their hiccups, Papelbon with a 3.42 ERA, and Bard (3.29) with two blown saves.

On Wednesday, Bard faced five batters: three strikeouts and two groundouts.

"Felt really good," he said. "Amazing what four days off will do."

Bard knows not to get used to it. With the bullpen in its unreliable state, Manager Terry Francona will be calling for Bard more and more.

As for the other relievers Boston has tried shall we go down the list?

Veteran Dennys Reyes was to be the chief left-hander out of the pen. He didn't make it to Boston, designated for assignment during the first trip (16.20 ERA).

Bobby Jenks was signed to a two-year, $12 million deal to strengthen the back end and take a load off Bard. A 9.35 ERA led to a stint on the disabled list. He came back Tuesday.

Dan Wheeler is another free agent signed for decent money ($3 million). ERA is 7.80. Also hit the disabled list and is also back.

Matt Albers landed on the disabled list after the first week. He looked good coming back, with a few stumbles like Wednesday (one-third of an inning, three hits, one run).

"When he's good, he's pounding that two-seamer down with the breaking ball," Francona said. "He elevated it enough where they hit some ground balls through. He's been so good for us. We'll keep running him out there."

Alfredo Aceves has been serving as a spot starter and hopefully will bolster the pen now that John Lackey is back. He has a 2.60 ERA as a reliever.

Tim Wakefield likely will remain the fifth starter with Daisuke Matsuzaka's status uncertain. Wakefield's mop-up role in relief was a wasted spot.

Hideki Okajima was given a chance to show he could return to form. He couldn't do it (seven hits, five walks, four runs in 81/3 innings) and is on a minor league contract in Pawtucket.

Felix Doubront is a left-hander the Red Sox like, but he may never get comfortable as a reliever. Had a 6.75 ERA in three outings before going back to Triple-A. In Pawtucket he just came off the disabled list.

Scott Atchison (5.11) is with Boston but with Aceves going back to relief, may head to Pawtucket -- unless the Red Sox decide not to replace Hill with another left-hander.

Michael Bowden and Doubront are the only pitchers in Pawtucket who are on the 40-man roster.

Bowden has been up a couple of times, but has pitched in only one game (two innings, no runs).

(Continued on page 2)

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