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Questions about Andrew Bailey’s health as Red Sox set rotation

04.01.12 at 12:03 pm ET

The fact that the Red Sox announced their fourth and fifth starters to open the season on Sunday was expected. The fact that they hinted at the need to address an injury in the bullpen, perhaps to closer Andrew Bailey, was not.

Manager Bobby Valentine said that Felix Doubront would start the Red Sox’ fourth game of the year, followed in the rotation by Daniel Bard. That, in turn, would have Alfredo Aceves going to the bullpen and Aaron Cook, in all likelihood, heading to Triple-A Pawtucket to start the year as potential rotation depth.

Yet the real intrigue of Sunday morning focused not on the Sox rotation but instead on the overall health of the entire pitching staff, something that Valentine discussed cryptically when describing why Aceves would be used out of the bullpen.

“As far as Ace is concerned, he did nothing ‘€“’€“ he didn’€™t lose the job. It’€™s just when we look at the situation with this team, it seems he has incredible value not being locked down one day,” Sox manager Bobby Valentine told reporters. “He wasn’€™t happy about it obviously and I told he has a very, very important role on this team that I think he’€™s one of the best pitchers in camp. Trying to figure out where it is we need him the most is very difficult. It’€™s a perplexing problem.”

Asked to further clarify whether the decision to have Aceves pitch in the bullpen was related to concern about the Red Sox’ late-innings options, Valentine spoke in vague terms.

“If I add to that the way I should answer it, you’€™ll be confused because you don’€™t have all the information, and I don’€™t know that I can give you all the information. The answer is yes. Don’€™t be confused by that answer,” he told reporters.

“There might be a health situation,” he later allowed.

Given that Valentine described Aceves as a possibility to pitch “at the end of the game,” Valentine’s comments created immediate intrigue about the status of right-hander Andrew Bailey. Bailey — who was behind other Sox relievers at the start of camp due to a lat strain — has not pitched in a major league spring training game since March 25.

Bailey has allowed three runs in six innings in Grapefruit League games, striking out seven and walking two. He last threw in a minor league game on March 28, at which point he declared himself “ready to roll” for the opener.

However, he also suggested at the time that he was slated to pitch in two more games before the Sox left Fort Myers for an exhibition game in Washington, DC, against the Nationals. To date, he has not made an appearance since that minor league outing, and according to a major league source, the right-hander is dealing with right thumb soreness.

The Sox are still gathering information, but it remains possible that the team could place Bailey on the 15-day disabled list to start the season. If they did so, they could backdate the start of his DL stint to March 26; in doing so, Bailey could be eligible for activation as early as April 10.

As for the rotation, Doubront, 24, appeared in four Grapefruit League games, allowing five runs in 16 2/3 innings this spring (2.70 ERA). The left-hander, who has a career 2-2 record and 4.84 ERA in 23 career big league appearances, struck out 10 and walked six this spring. All three of his big league starts came in 2010.

“Felix I think had the best spring of anyone,” Valentine told reporters. “Obviously, we just went on results, but he also progressed the way we he hoped he’€™d progress physically and mentally to the point where we think he can be a very good major league starting pitcher.”

Bard, 26, went 2-2 with a 6.57 ERA in six Grapefruit League appearances while attempting to pitch in the rotation for the first time since his pro debut in 2007. He struck out a team-high 18 batters but also walked a team-high 16 in 24 2/3 innings. While there is a work-in-progress element to his conversion from the bullpen to the rotation, the Sox saw enough to continue the project.

“Daniel Bard came in and progressed exactly the way we’€™d hope he would progress,” said Valentine. “We just felt that at this time, it was the right thing to do.”

Aceves will return to the bullpen, where he was so effective a year ago. The right-hander logged 18 innings in five Grapefruit League outings. He gave up 11 earned runs in 18 innings (5.50 ERA), striking out 15 and walking just three. The 29-year-old was dominant as a reliever for the Sox last year, going 9-1 with a 2.03 ERA in 93 innings, while going 1-1 with a 5.14 ERA in four starts.

He made little secret about his desire to start last season, and while he said publicly that he would not be disappointed if moved back to the bullpen this year, there was evidently some dissatisfaction with the Sox’ decision about how to use him.

“He wasn’t happy about it, obviously,” manager Bobby Valentine told reporters of Aceves’ reaction.

Cook, who signed a minor league contract with the Sox this winter, was held back at the start of spring as a precaution given the shoulder problems he’d experienced in the last two years. But he impressed once on the mound, with his turbo sinker allowing him to forge a 1.93 ERA (2 runs in 9 1/3 innings) with four strikeouts and three walks.

Read More: Andrew Bailey, Daniel Bard, felix doubront,
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