McAdam: Bard's slump aside, Sox need Papelbon

524552.jpg

McAdam: Bard's slump aside, Sox need Papelbon

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
BOSTON -- On Wednesday, for the third time in the last week, Daniel Bard lost a game in the late innings for the Red Sox. The 5-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, like the two games before it, was clearly a costly one for the Sox.

Had Bard locked down the 4-2 lead with which he was entrusted in the eighth, the Sox would sport a five-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays, rather the four-game edge they currently maintain.

For that matter, had Bard performed against the Toronto Blue Jays last Wednesday, Tim Wakefield would have earned his 200th career victory six days earlier. And had he not surrendered the 10th-inning base hit to Evan Longoria three days later -- the game was tied at the time after the Red Sox pulled even with two ninth-inning homers -- the Sox perhaps would not have been swept at Tropicana Field.

Either way, they would have been closer to the front-running Yankees and safely distant from the hard-charging Rays.

Resolved, then: Bard's had a bad week, In the bigger picture, he's had a disappointing month. His slump has been almost as puzzling as the reaction the slump has generated.

Some have taken this relatively small sample size -- four poor outings since Sept. 1 -- and used it as evidence that Bard is ill-suited to become the Red Sox' closer of the future, in turn necessitating the re-signing of Jonathan Papelbon.

Those people have it only half-right.

The Red Sox should re-sign Papelbon this offseason. Their motivation, however, has nothing to do with projecting Bard as his replacement.

Instead, the Red Sox should view the two as a tandem, two equally essential parts to late-inning success.

"I'm nothing without him,'' asserted Jonathan Papelbon Thursday, "and he's nothing without me."

Papelbon's logic is unassailable. The Sox desperately need Bard to get them to Papelbon and the ninth. And they need Papelbon to be the last line of defense when a late-inning lead -- and by extension, the game itself -- is one the line.

To suggest that the last handful of outings are some sort of proof Bard can't handle the pressure is absurd. Where were Bard's lack of nerves when he was stranding 29-of-32 baserunners into late August?

Bard's role as the primary set-up man is, in some significant ways, far more difficult than Papelbon's. While Papelbon usually enters a clean inning with no outs and no baserunners and often has to protect a lead of two or three runs, Bard frequently is called upon to clean up someone else's mess.

It's a role he's filled expertly -- until the last two weeks. Papelbon would have anywhere near the number of save opportunities he's had without Bard clearing the dreck in the seventh or eighth innings.

Laugh if you must at the "hold'' stat -- in the age of advanced metrics, it's hopelessly inadequate. But think of holds as the set-up version of a save: occasionally misleading and open to interpretation, but mostly meaningful.

If closers are ultimately judged by the number of times they successfully preserve a lead (measured in saves), then set-up men are similarly charged with maintaining the lead they've been given (measures in holds).

And on the matter of holds, Bard is second in the league. He's also the only Red Sox reliever since 1969 to have two seasons of 31 or more holds. Bard set the franchise record with 32 in 2010. Even with his recent struggles, he has the second-best WHIP among qualifying American League relievers.

The last two weeks excepting, Bard does his job so well that it would be ludicrous to ask him to do anything else. And having him replace Papelbon would be doubly ludicrous, since it would mean that the Sox would then need someone to replace Bard himself.

Those high-leverage innings are more diffucult to navigate than many save situations.

Conversely, until a pitcher has successfully walked the ninth-inning tightrope, then it can't automatically be assumed that Bard can necessarily do Papelbon's job. Recent baseball history is littered with guys who thrive in the seventh or eighth, but stumble in the ninth. (And a good morning to you, Mike Timlin).

That's why the answer isn't for the Red Sox to allow Papelbon to leave while slipping Bard into the closer's spot. Instead, the Sox should extend Papelbon -- either through arbitration for what surely would be a record award for a relief pitcher, or in a two- or three-year deal that would reward Papelbon with a better AAV (average annual value) in excess of his current 12 mullion.

Such a contract would enable Papelbon to boast of his salary standard-setting status, while protecting the Red Sox from the vagaries of long-term contracts for over-30 closers.

The notion that Bard's recent run of blown saves is indicative of some character flaw, and not what it so obviously is -- nothing more than a bad stretch -- is laughable. When Papelbon led the A.L. in blown saves last year,it didn't prevent him from returning this year and enjoying his best season since 2008.

Retaining Papelbon is critical, of course, but not because the Red Sox lack options at closer for 2012, but rather, because it would give them the best of both worlds in the bullpen.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Brian Johnson: 'Awesome feeling' after five-hitter vs. Mariners

red_sox_brian_johnson_2_052617.jpg

Brian Johnson: 'Awesome feeling' after five-hitter vs. Mariners

BOSTON - Brian Johnson had quite a turnaround in his second time on Fenway Park's mound.

Johnson pitched a five-hitter in his first big league appearance at Fenway, and the Boston Red Sox stretched their winning streak to a season-high six games with a 6-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Saturday.

The 26-year-old left-hander became the first Red Sox pitcher to throw a shutout in his first Fenway start since Pedro Martinez on April 11, 1998. In Johnson's first start in Fenway - his fourth as a professional - he sustained a season-ending facial fracture when he hit by a line drive while pitching for Class A Lowell in 2012.

"The last time I walked off the mound here was 2012 and I made two pitches," Johnson said. "Today I went nine innings. Today was pretty cool."

Johnson left Triple-A for a little over a month last season to get treatment for an anxiety issue.

"Obviously with some stuff that I've been gone through in my career, it's an awesome feeling" he said.

But despite the stellar outing, Johnson was optioned back to Triple-A after the game.

"That's the reality of the game," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "We had a chance to congratulate him and yet option him back to Pawtucket, with David Price coming here Monday."

Brought up from the minors for the start, Johnson (2-0) gave up five singles, struck out eight and walked none. His only previous big league starts were at Houston on July 21, 2015, and at Toronto on April 18 this year.

Johnson was helped by a semi-leaping catch by center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. at the wall in the sixth, Bradley's diving grab of Nelson Cruz's sinking liner in the ninth and Bradley's game-ending running catch of Kyle Seager's drive.

Xander Bogaerts' RBI single triggered a three-run first inning and Bradley hit a two-run homer in the sixth

Shut out for the second straight day, Seattle has lost seven of eight.

"Their guy threw the ball over the plate. He threw strikes," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "I won't take anything away from what he did, but we're not swinging the bat very well."

Rob Whalen (0-1) gave up five runs and seven hits over 5 1/3 innings in his Mariners' debut, his first big league start since Aug. 23 for Atlanta. He is Seattle's 12th starting pitcher, the most in the major leagues.

Andrew Benintendi and Sandy Leon also had RBI singles in the first, when the Red Sox had two batters hit by pitches, two walks and two runners thrown out on the bases - Dustin Pedroia at third for the first out and Hanley Ramirez at the plate for the last.

Johnson beats Mariners 6-0 for Red Sox' 6th straight win

red_sox_brian_johnson_052617.jpg

Johnson beats Mariners 6-0 for Red Sox' 6th straight win

BOSTON - Brian Johnson pitched a five-hitter in his first big league appearance at Fenway Park, and the Boston Red Sox stretched their winning streak to a season-high six games with a 6-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Saturday.

Brought up from Triple-A Pawtucket, Johnson (2-0) gave up five singles, struck out eight and walked none. The 26-year-old left-hander's only previous big league starts were at Houston on July 21, 2015, and at Toronto on April 18 this year.

Johnson became the first Red Sox pitcher to throw a shutout in his first Fenway start since Pedro Martinez on April 11, 1998. In Johnson's first start in Fenway - his fourth as a professional - he sustained a season-ending facial fracture when he hit by a line drive while pitching for Class A Lowell in 2012.

Johnson was helped by a semi-leaping catch by center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. at the wall in the sixth, Bradley's diving grab of Nelson Cruz's sinking liner in the ninth and Bradley's game-ending running catch of Kyle Seager's drive.

Xander Bogaerts' RBI single triggered a three-run first inning and Bradley hit a two-run homer in the sixth

Shut out for the second straight day, Seattle has lost seven of eight.

Rob Whalen (0-1) gave up five runs and seven hits over 5 1/3 innings in his Mariners' debut, his first big league start since Aug. 23 for Atlanta. He is Seattle's 12th starting pitcher, the most in the major leagues.

Andrew Benintendi and Sandy Leon also had RBI singles in the first, when the Red Sox had two batters hit by pitches, two walks and two runners thrown out on the bases - Dustin Pedroia at third for the first out and Hanley Ramirez at the plate for the last.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Mariners: RHPs Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez, both on the DL with right shoulder inflammation, threw bullpen sessions. Hernandez said he "felt really good."... LHP James Paxton (strained forearm) is set to come off the DL and pitch at home Wednesday.

Red Sox: Pedroia was back at second base after getting Friday off to rest his sore left knee and not play on a wet field. He was hit by a pitch on the right forearm his first time up and went 1 for 3. ... 3B Pablo Sandoval, on the DL with a sprained right knee, was expected to play nine innings Saturday night in a rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket. Manager John Farrell didn't rule out that he could be activated next week.

UP NEXT

Mariners: RHP Christian Bergman (1-2, 6.30 ERA) gave up 10 runs and 14 hits over four innings in a 10-1 loss Tuesday at Washington.

Red Sox: RHP Rick Porcello (3-4, 4.35) has gone at least six innings in eight of nine starts.