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Red Sox notes: Bullpen competition nears its end

03.24.11 at 3:00 pm ET

JUPITER, Fla. — The competition is now in the home stretch.

Manager Terry Francona said that the Sox will use “the next couple of days” to sort out many of their remaining roster decisions, most notably including which of the relievers currently in competition for the final spot will begin the year in the majors, who will start the year in the minors and which ones might end up in other organizations. It is a decision made more difficult by the fact that most of the pitchers hoping to open the year with the team have performed well.

“I don’€™t think anybody has done anything to where you go, ‘€˜They couldn’€™t handle it here,’€™” said Francona. “It makes for some difficult decisions, but I think for the very most part, everybody has done a pretty commendable job.”

As of now, the Sox appear all but certain to feature Jonathan Papelbon, Bobby Jenks, Daniel Bard, Dan Wheeler and Tim Wakefield in their bullpen (barring an injury to any of those pitchers).

Here is the breakdown of the remaining relief candidates in camp (through Wednesday’s games) who are gunning for the Sox’ final two relief spots:

Alfredo Aceves (2 options remaining): 5 games, 13 1/3 innings, 13 hits, 6 earned runs (4.05 ERA), 4 strikeouts, 3 walks

Matt Albers (no options remaining): 7 games, 10 innings, 8 hits, 2 runs (1.80 ERA), 11 strikeouts, 0 walks, 1 HBP

Scott Atchison (1 option remaining): 7 games, 8 1/3 innings, 11 hits, 6 earned runs (6.48 ERA), 4 strikeouts, 4 walks

Michael Bowden (1 option remaining): 7 games, 9 2/3 innings, 7 hits, 2 earned runs (1.86 ERA), 6 strikeouts, 3 walks

Rich Hill (minor league contract; opt-out in July): 7 games, 8 2/3 innings, 5 hits, 0 earned runs (0.00 ERA), 6 strikeouts, 3 walks

Andrew Miller (minor league contract; late-season opt-out): 7 games, 7 2/3 innings, 11 hits, 9 earned runs (11.57 ERA), 6 strikeouts, 4 walks

Hideki Okajima (3 options remaining): 6 games, 6 innings, 9 hits, 4 earned runs (6.00 ERA), 6 strikeouts, 1 walk

Dennys Reyes (minor league contract; opt-out March 26): 8 games, 8 innings, 6 hits, 1 earned run (1.13 ERA), 8 strikeouts, 3 walks

Randy Williams (minor league contract): 8 games, 9 2/3 innings, 6 hits, 3 earned runs (2.79 ERA), 10 strikeouts, 4 walks

If Albers or Reyes does not make the Opening Day major league roster, then the Sox could risk losing him, Albers because another team could claim him on waivers, Reyes because he could opt out of his contract. And the Sox, Francona said, are mindful of that fact when they make their roster decisions.

They will not merely evaluate who is best positioned to help the club out of the gate, but also which players will provide them with the most roster depth and flexibility going forward.

‘€œWe certainly have to think about that. If I said we didn’€™t, that would probably be a flat-out lie,’€ said Francona. ‘€œYou’€™ve got to be cognizant of it.’€

The team will also consider the track record of the pitchers who are competing for the job, making their evaluation on more than just the spring statistics of the hurlers.

“If you don’€™t [look at a player’s track record], and you go on five spring training outings, that would be not very smart,” said Francona. “If you just had a complete pitch-off, you wouldn’€™t be putting your team in the best position.”

Even so, while track record matters in the competition, it has been clear to the pitchers on the bubble this spring that they have been involved in a competition from the outset of the spring. While there are players whose secure roster spots permit them to shrug off a bad game or three, the relievers are not among them.

“It’€™s real season. That’€™s why we try to be careful with what we say,” said Francona. “You see everyone coming out, having fun, it’€™s spring training. But those guys wake up every morning and every time I walk through the clubhouse, they’€™re waiting to see if I’€™m going to come get them. That’€™s tough. It’€™s hard. I’€™ve been through it. It’€™s really hard. We’€™re, what, four days from breaking camp, or five days, everybody is excited about packing, and they still don’€™t know where they’€™re going. That’€™s hard.”

–Francona said that the Sox have not yet decided whether to stretch out left-hander Andrew Miller as a starter or to have him continue working out of the bullpen. Miller is slated to pitch in a minor league game on Friday. The same, said Francona, is true of Felix Doubront, who is appearing in his first game of the spring (at the Sox’ minor league complex) today.

–Sox pitchers are currently making their final full starts of the spring. Next week, in their final tuneup, the members of the rotation will be scaled back, likely to about three or four innings.

“We don’€™t want them going into their first start feeling like the tank’€™s not full,” said Francona. “I’€™d much rather take a guy out an inning early the first week of a game than have them go into their first start feeling a little tight or like they extended too far.”

Jon Lester has been told that he can choose either to start against the Orioles in Sarasota on Sunday or to pitch in a minor league game. Josh Beckett will start the exhibition game in Houston against the Astros on Wednesday, while Daisuke Matsuzaka will pitch a simulated game on Thursday morning in Houston before the team heads out to face the Rangers for the season opener.

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