Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Alfredo Aceves could be the closer given an injury to Andrew Bailey. Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Curse Of The Closer

Ryan Madson, Joakim Soria, Andrew Bailey. Is this a trend? Closer’s arms just about falling off before the end of spring training. What’s up with the epidemic?

Madson’s elbow is in pieces. Soria needs Tommy John surgery to fix a torn ligament in his right elbow. Bailey is out at least until after the All-Star game. Has this trio of weak arms determined Division races already?

And let us not forget poor Josh Outman of the Colorado Rockies. It wasn’t bad enough that Outman got food poisoning from bad sushi or something, but he was throwing up so violently than he pulled an oblique muscle. The muscle strain landed him on the 15-day disabled list. Outman’s problem isn’t in their category for severity, but is more an example of weirdness felling a reliever.

Madson’s injury disrupted the Cincinnati Reds’ entire off-season plan and going into the season means that manager Dusty Baker doesn’t have a closer. The Reds have announced their bullpen closer role will operate by committee. Let’s see how long that lasts.


Soria’s problems mean the up-and-coming Kansas City Royals might not be up-and-coming this year, after all.

In the very competitive American League East the Red Sox’ extended loss of Bailey for months after thumb surgery could make the difference between a playoff team and a non-playoff team. That’s what the Sox get for letting Jonathan Papelbon walk. At least Boston might have a solution in-house that makes some sense. The choice comes down to Mark Melancon or Alfredo Aceves.

Melancon saved 20 games for the Astros last year and that says a lot about him. The Astros were lucky to win 20 games last year, so that’s a pretty tall number for a pretty weak team. In all, besides the saves, he was 8-4 with a 2.78 earned run average. Melancon could have a break-out year and save the Sox.

Aceves, who had a strong spring, wanted to become a starter for Boston. Now he could be a savior.

If we ever needed any more evidence, closers are fragile. Some of us make fun of the fact that they might pitch just 1/3 of an inning at a time, or that they might only throw 75 innings a year and get paid millions of dollars for doing it, but maybe the role is harder than we thought if they keep disintegrating. It is a given that it is a mentally demanding job since they always come into a game under pressure.

OK, so it is a difficult job. But should there be that much strain on the arm? Not every pitcher with a strong arm can do the job. Some are not temperamentally suited. Team by team there is usually only one front-line closer aboard. The organization can’t afford to have more than one around at a time financially and there is only work for one at a time.

What that means is that teams are also not usually well-positioned to replace a closer when something goes wrong. Teams are kind of flailing in the dark, crossing their fingers, praying that the substitute guy that they didn’t think was good enough to do the job is actually good enough to do the job.

So that’s where the Reds are. That’s where the Royals are. The Red Sox may get lucky discover they have a gem in waiting. Fortunately for them, it could be either Aceves or Melancon.

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Tags: Alfredo Aceves Andrew Bailey Boston Red Sox Cincinnati Reds Colorado Rockies Dusty Baker Houston Astros Joakim Soria Jonathan Papelbon Josh Outman Kansas City Royals Mark Melancon Ryan Madson Tommy John Surgery

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