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Imploding bullpen should be blown up

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / April 22, 2012
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The powwow Saturday night among Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, general manager Ben Cherington, assistant general manager Brian O’Halloran, and owner John Henry likely stumbled across the subject of the bullpen.

The bullpen, which has an 8.64 ERA after 14 games, the one that allowed 14 runs (13 earned), 12 hits, and 5 walks in three innings in Boston’s 15-9 loss to the Yankees after starter Felix Doubront left with a 9-1 cushion.

If you can’t rely on your bullpen to hold that type of lead, where do you go?

Go ahead and boo Valentine, but how is he to blame for what happened on that baseball field Saturday afternoon before a nationally televised audience?

Valentine doesn’t pick the groceries.

The bullpen doesn’t have a lot of dependable people and its flow is off-kilter since Andrew Bailey went down with a thumb injury and Mark Melancon, now pitching in Pawtucket, could not hold the fort as a setup man.

One or two others might be sent to Pawtucket before long.

Alfredo Aceves, closer? Ha. He’s been the opener. He came into the game in the eighth inning to preserve a 9-8 lead with a runner on base. Six batters and five runs later, the Yankees had a rout going.

This is your closer?

I’ve said for weeks that after Bailey went down, the starting experiment with Daniel Bard had to be scrapped. Bard can be an effective starter and he is Sunday night’s starter, weather permitting.

But given the needs of this team right now, Bard would solidify the bullpen, putting other pieces in the right places.

Then you recall veteran Aaron Cook from Pawtucket and make him the fifth starter.

Doesn’t that work better?

Valentine acknowledged after being shell-shocked that changes in roles could occur after this debacle.

Asked specifically about Bard being considered for the closer role, Valentine said, “Got to consider everything.’’

“Bard is starting [Sunday] night,’’ confirmed Cherington. “So that’s where that is. I think when the pitching staff is not performing and when you’re 4-10, you have to find ways to get better. The reality of it is when you’re not winning games and the start hasn’t gone the way we wanted, we’ve got to consider changes, it does increase the urgency.”

“We don’t have any pitching moves planned for [Sunday]. Keep looking at it and look at every aspect of the pitching and how to get it better. We still believe, despite what happened today, there’s a lot of quality on the pitching staff and guys who can be successful. We have to get there, though. We’ve got to do it. If changes need to be made, they need to be made.’’

Cherington said the team hasn’t considered any new role for Bard if his start is rained out.

In spring training, Valentine was resistant to Bard being a starter. It was the wish of the front office to grant Bard’s desire to be a starter. Bard had some ups and downs, but for the most part proved he could do it. And nothing he’s done so far would make you believe otherwise.

You hate to punish someone for doing a good job, but this is becoming a matter of needs.

Why not try what could be inevitable, anyway, and make the move with Bard now?

Cook has a May 1 opt-out in his contract and Daisuke Matsuzaka is no more than five starts away (barring setbacks) from rejoining the rotation.

At that point, someone’s got to leave the rotation and in the brief conversations I’ve had with Valentine about a six-man rotation, it doesn’t appear he would be in favor of that for any prolonged period.

Meanwhile, Felix Doubront keeps showing why he should remain in the rotation. But it’s hard to replace the pieces in this bullpen.

Vicente Padilla looked as if he was going to be a solid piece, but he was horrendous Saturday (grand slam and five runs in a third of an inning). Matt Albers has always been an adventure. Valentine would love Franklin Morales to be that all-purpose lefthander who can pitch in tough spots late in the game. But Morales has also been inconsistent.

The one bright spot in two mop-up appearances has been Junichi Tazawa.

Could his role soon expand for more important situations? Why not. It beats the alternative.

The Red Sox need more pitching no matter how you reconfigure it. Even if Bard goes back to the bullpen, they need help. Perhaps they turn to the Oakland A’s for Grant Balfour, an AL East battle-tested reliever from his Tampa Bay days. There isn’t much out there the Sox can obtain.

It’s almost impossible to manage this situation. Valentine can’t even be himself.

In the past, if you asked the question of whether he has confidence in his bullpen, he answered, “They’re my guys.’’ They might be his guys, but right now they’re horrible.

Yet he defended them.

“He made some quality pitches,’’ Valentine said of Aceves. “The second pitch to A-Rod seemed to unravel him a little, but not so much. He got balls up that got hit. It all happened pretty quickly. And it’s all kind of confusing right now.’’

It’s not really confusing. It was terrible. Period. End of story.

“It’s hard to define it,’’ Valentine said.

No, it’s easy to define.

It stinks. It really stinks.

Valentine will get a lot of advice over the next few days. Jose Canseco, who made it to Fenway’s 100th anniversary, tweeted, “Bobby, if you want me to help you fix the Red Sox, call me. I have some ideas. Red Sox know how to contact me.’’

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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