FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox took a gamble when they acquired Andrew Bailey from the Oakland Athletics in December. The righthander unquestionably had the talent and temperament to replace Jonathan Papelbon as the closer but had a troubling history with injuries.
Now, just days before the season starts, Bailey has been told he needs surgery on his right thumb according to major league sources.
Bailey was examined by team doctors in Boston Monday and on Tuesday will see Dr. Thomas Graham, a hand specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. If Graham agrees with the recommendation for surgery, it could happen as soon as later Tuesday.
Graham performed surgery on Kevin Youkilis and Jarrod Saltalamacchia in 2010. Youkilis had a torn muscle in his right thumb and Saltalamacchia a torn ligament in his left thumb.
The Red Sox open the season Thursday in Detroit. It is uncertain how long Bailey would be out.
“When a player is injured I always am very concerned and always try to make alternative plans. If he jumps right back in, then I’m pleasantly surprised,” manager Bobby Valentine said. “When guys are hurt, they’re hurt and he couldn’t pitch for a couple of days, you know?”
It is uncertain how Bailey was injured. All that is known for sure is that he threw 26 pitches in a minor league game last Wednesday and has not pitched since.
Because of the long layoff, it is almost certain Bailey will start the season on the disabled list for the second consecutive season, whether surgery is required or not.
Bailey strained his forearm in spring training last season and did not return to the Athletics until May 29.
In 2010, he had minor elbow surgery in September, and he had knee surgery after the season in 2009.
Bailey strained a muscle behind his shoulder on the second day of camp during physical testing. That kept him out until March 12. But he was on track to be ready for Opening Day before the thumb injury.
The Red Sox traded outfielder Josh Reddick and two prospects to Oakland Dec. 28 for Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney.
“We had a chance to look into Bailey’s medical history and get to know a lot more about what he’s gone through,” Sox general manager Ben Cherington said at the time. “We’re very confident that he will come into camp ready to go.”
Without Bailey, an already thin Red Sox bullpen will turn to Mark Melancon and Alfredo Aceves as replacements. Melancon has 20 career saves, all with the Houston Astros last season. Aceves has four career saves.
“I’m ready for whatever they throw at me,” Melancon said. “If they need me to close, I’ve done that before. It’s the kind of situation that I like.”
Aceves was told by Valentine to be prepared to pitch in the eighth or ninth inning. If Bailey is out for an extended period, the Sox could designate Melancon or Aceves as the closer. There are no plans at the moment to return newly crowned No. 5 starter Daniel Bard to the bullpen.