Bailey feels no pressure replacing Papelbon
Red Sox's new closer looks forward to carrying heavy load
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Andrew Bailey had thrown just two pitches on Monday and he was already trying to put out his first fire for the Red Sox. The Marlins' Omar Infante greeted him with a double, and when Austin Kearns followed with a single and Aaron Rowand did the same to bring home a run, Bailey was sure glad this was his Spring Training debut instead of the one he will make during the regular season.
By then, he will soon learn that every mishap is magnified in Boston, where there's no tougher place to be a closer.
But this was Fort Myers, with the soothing palm trees in the backdrop. Sure, he gave up a run, but there was no real consequence.
If you want the truth, Bailey is looking forward to being asked to carry a heavy load, which includes replacing that guy named Jonathan Papelbon.
"I don't feel the pressure," Bailey said after the Red Sox's 5-3 win. "I know what he did here -- obviously the all-time save leader here -- and for me, it's a new opportunity in my career. Pressure is what you put on yourself. In my eyes, it's an opportunity in my career to further my career and pitch for the greatest franchise in baseball."
Bailey showed the ability to minimize a jam even in this Grapefruit League debut. After the three consecutive hits and a wild pitch, he induced a popup, a fielder's-choice grounder and a groundout.
"First guy hit a double. Immediately, the mind switches into the closer's mentality where you never want to blow a game," Bailey said. "It doesn't matter for me if it's in Spring Training. For me, it was kind of cool to have your first outing being that type of a ballgame, and for me, kind of act like it was the regular season. Obviously I had some things to work on. That's why we start in Spring Training. But for me, you never want to give up runs no matter when you pitch."
In truth, Bailey has just about always pitched well in his career, starting with his American League Rookie of the Year Award season in 2009. His only problem has been durability, and that's why all the Red Sox want to do is keep him healthy during March.
"He feels healthy right now, and that's a big step for him," said manager Bobby Valentine. "That's good. I'd rather have him strike everyone out and miss all the bats, but bats happened to find the ball a couple of times today."
The reason Bailey started the exhibition season a little late was because he tweaked his lat doing a high-jump exercise.
"Nothing hurts," Bailey said. "I feel great. Like I said, it's good to be back out there. With the little lat thing, it's kind of frustrating, but it's good that it happened when it did in the early part of spring. Hopefully I won't have to vertical jump next year."
In truth, Spring Training is probably a little too long for closers in the first place. Bailey will pitch seven more times in the Grapefruit League circuit, and then all circuits should be good to go for Detroit, where the Red Sox open their season on April 5.
And that's when the Papelbon comparisons will truly start.
"Obviously Pap is one of the best in the game," said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. "He's the quickest to 200 [saves]. Anybody put in that situation, it's going to be tough. But if there's a guy who can do it, it's Andrew. He's got good stuff. He likes to go after you. He's a proven closer. We have no worries in the world."
Even with the little jam on Monday, Saltalamacchia liked the view of Bailey from behind the plate.
"I thought his velocity was really good. The ball was coming out of his hand really good," said Saltalamacchia. "I knew he probably wasn't happy with the outcome of it, but he got into a tough jam and still did a good job to get himself out of it. It's the first time out. He's going to be amped up."
Adrian Gonzalez, Boston's sweet-swinging first baseman, is glad he'll no longer have to dig in against Bailey.
"He's got late life on all his pitches. He comes right after you. I think he's a great closer and he'll be great for us," Gonzalez said.
If Bailey appears a lot more laid-back from the outside than the fist-pumping righty he replaces, they actually share a similar competitive fire.
"I'll never take a day off of being intense," Bailey said. "You have a small window to play this game. If you go out there and not give it your all or be as intense as you can, I wouldn't sleep at night. So for me, going out there every night knowing I did my best and I put everything I had into it, that's what I'm going to give you."