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Where will Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez hit in the lineup?
Will Josh Beckett bounce back from an injury-plagued 2010?
Did Dustin Pedroia use his spare time to get better at cribbage?
Some questions are obviously more pressing than others. One Francona will have to answer very soon is “who is in, and who is out” of the bullpen? Many players have done their job to earn a spot out this spring, but there are only a few roster spots available.
Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard, Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler are all locks for the late innings. If the Sox go with seven relievers, that leaves just three more spots on the Opening Day roster.
Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves are both assets because they can make an emergency start or fill a role in the rotation in case of injuries. Wakefield has been shaky this spring, allowing 11 runs (eight earned) in 9.2 innings, but Francona tends to stick with his veteran players. It would be shocking to see the knuckleballer cast away after 16 years in a Red Sox uniform. Especially considering Wakefield has chance to break Rogers Clemens and Cy Young’s record of 192 wins with Boston (Wake is currently at 179).
Aceves, picked up off free-agency when the Yankees sent him packing, was a big surprise acquisition for Boston. He pitched in five games, making two starts this spring, posting a 4.05 ERA. In 13.1 innings of work, Aceves allowed six earned runs off 13 hits. With all the uncertainty that surrounds Daisuke Matsuzaka as a fifth starter, and the health of Josh Beckett, it would not be a bad idea for the Red Sox to keep a couple versatile reliever/starters.
At this point, it seems like the Red Sox will assign both Felix Doubront and lefty Andrew Miller to the minors, giving them time as starters rather than long relievers in the majors.
The Red Sox have a trio of lefties vying for a spot (maybe two) and this decision could prove to be the most difficult. Hideki Okajima, Rich Hill and Dennys Reyes could all serve as the Red Sox southpaw out of the pen, but at least one of them will not make the team. Reyes has an opt-out clause in his contract, and could do so by Friday if it does not look like he will make the squad. However, his 1.13 ERA and eight strikeouts in eight innings (along with his “El-Guapo” like appearance) should make him a shoe-in. Hill was also solid this spring, pitching 8.2 scoreless innings in which he allowed just five hits.
So that would leave Okajima the odd-man out. Oki allowed six runs (four earned) over six innings this spring. He’s given up six hits, but only walked one while striking out six. Although he has been up-and-down since his rookie campaign in 2007, Francona may stick with an arm he has trusted. Hill could always find himself in the minors, only to be called up if Okajima/Reyes falters.
The Red Sox will also have to make a call on right-handers Michael Bowden, Matt Albers and Scott Atchison. Bowden, 24, is 1-0 with an ERA of 1.86 over 9.2 innings this spring but could find himself in the minors because he has options remaining. Albers has also been impressive, sporting a 1.80 ERA over 10 innings, striking out 11 while walking none. Although Atchison’s ERA is 6.48, he was very good last season in a long-relief role and proved to be one of Boston’s better relievers in 2010. If both Aceves and Wakefield make the cut, it appears all three would have to either head to the minors or find a new team.
Who’s In? Papelbon, Bard, Jenks, Wheeler, Wakefield, Aceves and Reyes
Who’s Out? Okajima, Hill, Bowden, Albers and Atchison