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Bobby Valentine excels at running of the bullpen with Red Sox

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / June 3, 2012
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TORONTO - When Bobby Valentine took the job as Red Sox manager, one of the first things he said was, “Bullpens can win championships.’’

Valentine’s relievers are on a nice run, and he knows that if it should continue, his team has a great chance of doing something special.

The manager has done his best work this season running a bullpen that looks a lot different from the one he thought he’d have but one that currently may be the best in baseball.

In Boston’s 7-4 win Saturday over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, Matt Albers, Andrew Miller, Vicente Padilla, and Alfredo Aceves once again did their thing. They saved the day for Felix Doubront, who allowed three runs over 6 1/3 innings and got the win to improve to 6-2.

Aceves, thrust into the closer’s role 72 hours before the start of the season, struggled badly in his first two appearances. But after Saturday’s dominating 1-2-3 ninth inning, Aceves had saved his 14th game in 17 chances.

“I think they understand me a little more and I understand them a little more,’’ Valentine said of his relievers. “I usually call early and say, ‘You’re going to be in for this guy.’

“It might be five hitters or three hitters away. I think their understanding of when they’re coming into the game, they get mentally prepared for that before they’re in there.

“Sometimes when things aren’t going well, you have to make the move because you have to make the move. It’s not the move you want to make, because stuff went awry on the field.

“But when you can set it up the way you want, and the guys execute, it’s really fun to see in action.’’

Valentine made Aceves the closer immediately after Andrew Bailey went down with a thumb injury because, “I thought he was my best pitcher in camp and I thought he could do it.’’

From there it was trial and error. Trying to figure out who could lead up to Aceves, attempting to determine how many times pitchers could be used without wearing them out. Valentine had to learn all of that.

“They’re prepared when they come in the game,’’ the manager said. “Randy [Niemann, assistant pitching coach] is doing a terrific job of monitoring the workload.

“And we have different combinations. We have guys with a different look, so if I bring in a righthander in the sixth inning and it’s Atch [Scott Atchison], then I bring in a righthander like Matty Albers, it’s a different look.

“I have the same thing going on with the lefties. If I bring in the three lefties, they’re all different looks, so the opposition can’t prepare. So far so good.’’

General manager Ben Cherington did the job building the bullpen, and Valentine has managed it well.

Like every skipper, Valentine is worried about burning his relievers out.

“A little,’’ he said. “I don’t see them wearing out. You look at Aceves and I think he’s so efficiently sound and in such great condition. It seems like he can pitch an awful lot. He’s never up in the seventh inning.’’

And knowing he has reinforcements in the minors if he needs them, such as Mark Melancon, Clayton Mortensen, and Junichi Tazawa, makes managing the bullpen that much easier.

Saturday, for instance, Valentine wasn’t completely sure how much Padilla could give him, “so I tried to mix and match that eighth. Matty did a fine job in the seventh and Andrew Miller got his out [in the eighth], and Padilla, with a little help from Brett Lawrie [who was out trying to steal third], got his two outs. Ace was Ace.’’

Valentine has tried to eliminate the perception that there is a “mop-up’’ guy or a “long man.’’ He has kept all his relievers feeling that they’re important enough to use in the toughest spots.

“I don’t have a guy who pitches [only] in losing games on this team,’’ he said. “When we’re behind in a game, everyone chips in an inning or so. When we’re ahead, it’s all hands on deck. It’s mix and match it, and they’re doing a very good job for us.’’

Albers and Atchison used to be those mop-up guys.

“Everybody’s filled a role,’’ Albers said. “When guys need a day off, guys are interchangeable in roles. We have three lefties and four righties doing the job. With our starter going deep, that helps. We’re getting into a good rhythm.

“It’s nice coming in and you know what you’re trying to do. I think relievers like that better. You feel like you’re in it. I think there was a little adjustment period, but I think everybody has a good idea on how they’re gonna get up.

“If things change, we know that in the bullpen. It’s real exciting. We’re pulling for each other. If someone gives up a run, there’s someone there to pick him up.’’

And the workload?

“I think we all want to be out there all the time,’’ Miller said. “There’s a fine line between a lot of reps and feeling good. We’re versatile. Righties can get lefties out and lefties can get righties out. We’ve found ways to pick each other up.

“I think the guy stretched out the most is Atch. He’ll pitch in the eighth inning with a lead sometimes. He can pitch from the beginning of the game to the end of the game. I think Bobby has shown a lot of confidence in whoever is fresh and whoever matches up the best.’’

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

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