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Red Sox would have been better off going with Bard

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / April 5, 2012
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DETROIT - Is Alfredo Aceves a horrible choice to be the Red Sox’ closer?

Of course not.

But Daniel Bard was the best choice.

It’s just common sense.

He’s the traditional power-pitching, short-inning guy who can blow batters away with fastballs in the 98-100-mile-per-hour range. He was easily replaceable in the starting rotation by Aaron Cook, who will start the season in Pawtucket.

And if they did that, they could keep the bullpen depth intact with Mark Melancon and Franklin Morales as the setup men and Aceves in a multi-inning role, or Aceves could have been a starter like he wanted to be.

To me, that was the best scenario in trying to rectify the horrible news of Andrew Bailey’s injury and long-term rehab (at least until the All-Star break) after undergoing thumb surgery.

If this were a short-term fix, then yes, leave Bard alone and in the rotation. But we were led to believe that a long-term issue would require the Sox to scrap the Bard as a starter experiment.

Aceves as the closer is a better choice than Melancon, who did nothing in spring training to make manager Bobby Valentine believe he could be the one, though Valentine said Melancon will close on days when Aceves is unavailable.

The best way to use Aceves would be in a non-traditional closer role. If you go back to 2000, when Derek Lowe had 42 saves for the Sox, that’s probably the type of closer Aceves should be. Lowe had 15 appearances of two or more innings and went a total of 91 1/3. Lowe was built to be that type of closer, and Aceves, who has a varied repertoire, is as well.

How many times have we seen a guy come into the game in the seventh, blow through the batting order, only to be taken out for the closer in the ninth? Aceves should be the guy you bring in for the seventh, and leave him in for a three-inning save.

Obviously, you don’t do that all of the time. But when you do that, you eliminate having an inferior setup man, and you keep a guy with a rubber arm in a role he’s familiar with.

While Aceves is suited in many ways to be the closer - Valentine called him “very competitive’’ - he’s also too emotional at times. We’ve also seen when he’s off, he can really be off, as in having little control. And when he gets a bit off his game, it’s not pretty, and it’s difficult for him to gather himself.

He’s apt to hit batters, throw wild pitches, and cross up the catcher. Those are the things you have to watch for in this experiment.

The Red Sox are likely hoping that Vicente Padilla can assume Aceves’s previous role. Padilla showed signs, getting up to three innings in spring training and pitching effectively at times. If Padilla can pull it off, the Aceves experiment could work.

The new-wave thinking is that you can find someone on your staff to be a closer, that the position isn’t as important as some of us make it out to be.

The Red Sox thought that in 2005, pre-Jonathan Papelbon, and it didn’t go so well. It’s an interesting concept until, well, you can’t find that guy to do it successfully. And if the Red Sox really felt this way, they wouldn’t have traded for Bailey.

They knew Papelbon was a significant loss. Bard was the obvious solution, but when he asked to be a starter, they allowed him to try it. The decision was made long before Valentine was named manager.

And it took Valentine a long time to finally say that Bard was going to be the No. 4 or 5 starter. One gets the feeling that if the organization wasn’t so adamant about Bard starting, Valentine might have named Bard the closer.

Then there was this notion that sending Bard back to the bullpen wouldn’t be fair to him. Why is it not fair to Bard, but OK with Aceves? The two were basically told the same thing this offseason - get ready to be a starter - and we’ll see what happens.

Except for one bad outing against the Phillies, Aceves outpitched Bard this spring. When you think about the pitcher who more easily would adapt as the closer, it would be Bard.

And then there’s this notion that moving Bard around will get him hurt. Huh? He’d be back to pitching one power inning after stretching out to 90 pitches. You hear nonsense like Joba Chamberlain got hurt, so therefore Bard will as well.

Right. Same guy. Same elbow. Same arm. Holy jumping to conclusions.

For one thing, Bard never has started a major league game. His only work to this point has been as a starter in spring training, so it’s not too late to turn back.

Nothing says the Red Sox won’t get lucky here. Bard could be a very good starting pitcher. Aceves might take to the closer role and never give it up. Both pitchers will be happy because Bard can earn big money as a starting pitcher and Aceves can make his money as a closer.

Aceves wasn’t very happy when he was told he would be in the rotation. News of his new role may calm him down.

Right before Opening Day isn’t the greatest time to have to sort all of this out, but the Red Sox aren’t alone in having to adjust their closer situation.

The Nationals will go with veteran Brad Lidge over the injured Drew Storen.

The Rays have to use Joel Peralta while Kyle Farnsworth gets healthy. The Royals will use Jonathan Broxton over Joakim Soria, who will miss the season. The Reds have lost free agent closer Ryan Madson for the season and will turn to Sean Marshall.

There are teams in the same boat. Some will get by just fine. Others won’t.

The Red Sox have made their decision. Starting Thursday, we’ll begin evaluating how it all works out.

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

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