Reports out of spring training suggest the part of the reason Alfredo Aceves is going back to the Red Sox's bullpen is because of concerns about new closer Andrew Bailey's health.
Alex Speier of WEEI.com reported that Bobby Valentine said "there was a potential health situation in his bullpen that impacted the decision to have Aceves available in relief."
Peter Abraham and Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe were more specific, saying, "Sources have since told the Globe that closer Andrew Bailey is dealing with a thumb injury."
While Valentine did not identify Bailey by name, he did say that his 'injured reliever' was a candidate for the DL to start the season.
Bailey has not pitched in a major league spring training game for a week and did not make a scheduled appearance against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday.
That would really get the Red Sox off on the right foot, wouldn't it? Having signed Bailey to replace Jonathan Papelbon, the closer slot was one pitching position that seemed to be set for Boston.
On the plus side, the Red Sox signed a second closer in 26-year-old Mark Melancon, who registered 20 saves in 25 chances for the struggling Astros in 2011. He posted a 2.78 ERA and ended up 8-4 with 71 appearances, holding opponents to a .234 batting average and striking out 66 batters while walking only 26.
As I wrote back on January 2, "He saved more than 35 percent of his team's wins last year even though he did not become the closer until mid-May. The problem is, contending teams devalue saves made on behalf of a cellar-dwelling ballclub. They don't believe that such saves constitute pitching under pressure."
So, with Bailey potentially unable to answer the bell, "Can Melancon make the transition from the laid-back, sparsely attended, meaningless games played by the bottom feeders of the NL Central to the pressure-cooker known as Fenway Park during a pennant race?"
To be fair, Melancon did appear in 16 games for the Yankees before being traded to Houston in the Lance Berkman deal in 2010—so he is not totally unfamiliar with the AL East.
Interestingly enough, I argued back then that Bailey's acquisition would make things easier for Melancon, giving him more time to adapt to a much more competitive division.
Cafardo points out that one of the question marks about Bailey was his injury history. He has endured offseason knee surgery in 2009, an elbow procedure late in the 2010 season and a forearm strain in 2011 that kept him on the DL until May 29.
Because of Bailey's reported injury, Valentine told Cafardo the final spot on the roster could well go to an extra reliever and not a position player.