Sox looking for late-inning arms to replace Bard

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Sox looking for late-inning arms to replace Bard

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- If Daniel Bard is as successful as he hopes in making the transition from bullpen to starting rotation, the Red Sox will have to find someone else to handle the high-leverage innings that Bard handled so well for the last 2 12 seasons.

There are a number of candidates, including right-hander Mark Melancon, who has late-inning experience with the Houston Astros.

But manager Bobby Valentine isn't showing his hand when it comes to his bullpen plans.

"I think the talent will dictate that,'' said Valentine. "I don't have a puzzle that I'm trying to fit pieces into; I'm going to take the pieces and make the puzzle. We'll see what we have.''

Among the candidates for Bard's old role: Melancon, Alfredo Aceves and Matt Albers.

Aceves could either start or take over Bard in the set-up role.

"He can do either or,'' said Valentine. "We'll see how that plays out and see how his health plays out. He was very healthy last year. He looks in great shape right now. He's a very determined pitcher and athlete.

"Those innings (last year) -- 90 valuable innings is pretty valuable in meaningful ballgames.''

One problem could arise if both Bard and Aceves become starters is the Red Sox will have to somehow find a way to replace almost 165 innings.

"It's a concern,'' admitted Valentine, "but I don't what else there is. We'll have to see what the other members of this 2012 version can do. When we can see what they can do and how they fit into place, we'll know if we're adding or subtracting from last year or if we're building something totally different and new.''

Patriots DT Branch wins appeal of four-game suspension

Patriots DT Branch wins appeal of four-game suspension

FOXBORO -- Alan Branch knew he had a good case, otherwise he wouldn't have appealed. It was just a question of when that appeal might be heard. 

As of Wednesday, the Patriots defensive tackle hadnt heard anything as it related to the appeal of his four-game suspension. But by Saturday morning, according to Field Yates of ESPN, Branch had won the appeal and been cleared of the league's ban. 

Branch's agent later confirmed the news on Twitter.

Word of Branch's punishment, which stemmed from what was reported as a positive marijuana test, became public when reported by ESPN on Nov. 21. Per the league's substance abuse policy, appeal hearings are typically scheduled for the fourth Tuesday after a player has been informed of his penalty. The policy notes that it is possible for appeals to be heard on another date should the two sides be able to work out different schedule, but Branch was not optimistic that would be the case earlier this week. 

Good news came quickly, though. 

Had Branch been forced to miss any time, it would have docked the Patriots arguably their top interior defensive lineman. Branch has started every game, and he leads all Patriots defensive tackles with 457 snaps played. 

The Patriots recently waived running back DJ Foster and signed defensive tackle Darius Kilgo, seemingly as a way to build some depth on the roster if Branch had been suspended. 

By having his four-game suspension wiped away not only are the Patriots saved from having to deal without one of their top players in the trenches, but Branch saved himself a relatively hefty financial penalty.

A four-game ban would have cost him nearly $300,000 in base salary as well as four game-day bonuses adding to $100,000. He also stood to lose as much as $750,000 in season-long playing-time incentives. In all, had the suspension stood, it could have cost him about $1.1 million. Patriots salary-cap expert Miguel Benzan goes into more detail about the potential financial impact of Branch's suspension here

Thankfully for Branch, he doesn't have to worry about that any longer. With this situation in the rear view, he can now focus on helping the Patriots win games during the stretch run of the regular season and into the playoffs.