By BRENDAN McGAIR
PAWTUCKET ‚Äď 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‚Äôs hard not to imagine him returning at some point during Boston‚Äôs 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 ‚Äď the primary reason why Boston general manager Ben Cherington acquired the 28-year-old in the first place ‚Äď or serve as a bridge to Alfredo Aceves, the current incumbent?
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs 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‚Äôm going to do,‚ÄĚ 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.
‚ÄúRight now we‚Äôve got to win ballgames and I think everyone knows that,‚ÄĚ Bailey continued. ‚ÄúObviously closing is what I love doing, but pitching in the big leagues is the ultimate goal.‚ÄĚ
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.
‚ÄúThey threw him (Aceves) in there and he‚Äôs done fine,‚ÄĚ said Bailey. ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think you can expect too much more out of him. He‚Äôs 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 ‚ÄėAce‚Äô has done.‚ÄĚ
The Andrew Bailey that took the mound at McCoy Stadium is the result of a pitcher who‚Äôs 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‚Äôs been full speed ahead in a vehement attempt to play catch-up.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs any injury where you really can‚Äôt do anything with your arm for a while,‚ÄĚ Bailey explained. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs like having to do a whole off-season throwing program again. Starting from zero once you‚Äôre healthy has been most frustrating part.
That said, Bailey says there are no issues with the thumb.
‚ÄúThe ball‚Äôs feeling good coming out of my hand, but there‚Äôs different milestones you‚Äôve got to achieve before you can get back to the big leagues,‚ÄĚ Bailey said. ‚ÄúOnce you‚Äôre there, the training wheels are off and you‚Äôve 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‚Äôre heading in the right direction.‚ÄĚ
Bailey will pitch again for the PawSox on Thursday in a still-to-be determined role. He‚Äôs yet to come into a game in the middle of an inning while closing is another threshold he‚Äôs yet to cross.
‚ÄúThe end goal is the big leagues and hopefully that‚Äôs soon,‚ÄĚ Bailey said. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve missed so much time.‚ÄĚ