BOSTON – Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey has as many blown saves – three -- as he has wins this season. Two of those wins have come as a result of blowing saves.
Tuesday, in the nightcap of the doubleheader against the Rays, was one of those games. Bailey entered in the ninth inning, with the Sox leading by a run after starter Felix Doubront spun a gem, his best of the season, going eight shutout innings, limiting the Rays to three hits with no walks and six strikeouts.
Bailey, though, quickly allowed the Rays to tie the game, giving up a home run to Kelly Johnson, the first batter he faced on the second pitch of his outing, a 1-and-0, 92-mph fastball, which Johnson delivered into the bleacher seats behind the Sox bullpen.
But, Jonny Gomes’ two-run, game-winning homer in the bottom of the ninth bailed out Bailey and the Sox, securing a 3-1 win and a doubleheader sweep.
But Bailey remains an enigma. He has eight saves this season, two more than his injury-shortened 2012, his first season with the Sox. His recorded his career-high of 26 saves in 2009, his first season in the major leagues, when he was named the American League rookie of the year with the A’s.
In his last four outings, spanning four innings, Bailey has given up at least one hit and a total of seven including three home runs. He’s given up a total of five runs in that span.
Except for Opening Day, when he threw one-third of an inning, he has pitched one inning in each of his 23 appearances. He has faced just three batters in just seven of those outings – six in April, one on June 5 against the Rangers.
Those aren’t’ the kind of trends you want to see from your closer. And if the Red Sox hope to get into the playoffs this season – for the first time since 2009, or win a playoff game for the first time since 2008 – they will need a closer who can shut down their opponents.
Manager John Farrell could have stayed with Doubront for the ninth. The left-hander had thrown just 93 pitches through eight innings.
“There was some thought of that,” Farrell acknowledged, “particularly knowing that [left-handed hitting James] Loney’s going to come up in that inning. He handled everyone in that lineup well tonight. But that’s Andrew’s job. Felix more than did his work and an outstanding effort on his part tonight.”
“[Bailey is] our closer. We’ve got some work to do. It’s the same pitch that he’s been beat on with the long ball the last two times out and we’ve got to get him more consistent. There’s no doubt. But he’s our closer.”
But, at this point, Bailey has the title more by default than by merit. Bailey, who was acquired by the Sox before the 2012 season, was hurt most of last year and struggled when he return. Those struggles prompted the Sox to acquire Joel Hanrahan – almost a year to the day they acquired Bailey – with Farrell immediately announcing Hanrahan as the team’s new closer.
But, when Hanrahan was hurt and lost for the season to Tommy John surgery, the job was given back to Bailey. Now the Sox must figure out if he is the closer they can rely on to get them through the season and into the playoffs.
Bailey, who missed 19 games earlier this season with a biceps strain, said after Tuesday’s outing there is nothing physically wrong with him. But he knows what it is wrong.
“Yeah, I’m throwing the ball down the middle,” he said. “I just to keep grinding through it, focus a little bit more, and, you know, I’ll get through it. I’ve pitched in this league for a couple of years now and had success. So just got to get back to doing that.
“They’re squaring up baseballs. I got to pitch better. That’s the bottom line.
“I’ve been studying video with [pitching coach] Juan [Nieves] and everything looks the same. So just got to start putting the ball in a better place. Can’t fall behind guys and leave a fastball down the middle.”
But how to go about getting to that?
“He’s been beaten on the fastball up,” Farrell said. “Hitters are going to go in and look up with him. And right now there’s not that second gear that we’ve seen with his fastball, where he’s beaten a number of hitters with some velocity up in the strike zone. They’ve taken a number of borderline breaking pitches. So two things, one is to get the fastball down and be a little bit more consistent with his secondary pitch to get them off just looking hard all the time in the at-bat.”
“Just got to figure it out out there,” Bailey said. “The only way to do that is to keep going back out there.”
But can the Sox afford to keep sending him back out? So far, it hasn’t cost them too badly. They have only suffered losses in three of the 23 games in which Bailey has appeared. But for how long will they be able to count on that?