By BRENDAN McGAIR
PAWTUCKET – Sprinkle in a few more spotless outings on top of the 1-2-3 sixth inning Andrew Bailey tossed for the PawSox Wednesday night and it’s hard not to imagine him returning at some point during Boston’s 10-game, three-city road trip, which gets under Thursday night in Cleveland.
The question is what capacity will Bailey serve upon joining the Red Sox. Will he close games – the primary reason why Boston general manager Ben Cherington acquired the 28-year-old in the first place – or serve as a bridge to Alfredo Aceves, the current incumbent?
“It’s not important if I close this year. I just want to help the team and achieve that goal of getting to the playoffs. Wherever they see fit is what I’m going to do,” said Bailey, who needed just 11 pitches and eight strikes to retire the Syracuse Chiefs.
A two-time American League All-Star, Bailey struck out one while topping out at 94 miles per hour.
“Right now we’ve got to win ballgames and I think everyone knows that,” Bailey continued. “Obviously closing is what I love doing, but pitching in the big leagues is the ultimate goal.”
Bailey, who saved 75 games in three seasons with Oakland, touched upon the job Aceves has done this season in his four-month absence. The former A.L. Rookie of the Year went down with a right thumb injury just prior to the start of the regular season, an unfortunate break that resulted in Boston turning to Aceves after he had lost out on a spot in the starting rotation.
Despite possessing a 4.21 ERA, Aceves is presently tied for fifth in the A.L. in saves with 23.
“They threw him (Aceves) in there and he’s done fine,” said Bailey. “I don’t think you can expect too much more out of him. He’s done a fabulous job in that role and is a guy who can go out and throw multiple innings. There are not enough good things you can say about what ‘Ace’ has done.”
The Andrew Bailey that took the mound at McCoy Stadium is the result of a pitcher who’s been forced to build up arm strength on the fly. Bailey was not permitted to even pick up a baseball while rehabbing his thumb. Once he was given the green light, it’s been full speed ahead in a vehement attempt to play catch-up.
“It’s any injury where you really can’t do anything with your arm for a while,” Bailey explained. “It’s like having to do a whole off-season throwing program again. Starting from zero once you’re healthy has been most frustrating part.
That said, Bailey says there are no issues with the thumb.
“The ball’s feeling good coming out of my hand, but there’s different milestones you’ve got to achieve before you can get back to the big leagues,” Bailey said. “Once you’re there, the training wheels are off and you’ve got to be ready every single day. Unfortunately it does take some time when you miss a lot of time like I have, but we’re heading in the right direction.”
Bailey will pitch again for the PawSox on Thursday in a still-to-be determined role. He’s yet to come into a game in the middle of an inning while closing is another threshold he’s yet to cross.
“The end goal is the big leagues and hopefully that’s soon,” Bailey said. “I’ve missed so much time.”