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BOSTON (CBS) — Jonathan Papelbon is in Philadelphia. Daniel Bard is in the starting rotation. Andrew Bailey is on the disabled list.
This was known to be the situation when the season began for the Boston Red Sox on Thursday afternoon, but it wasn’t known how soon, exactly, the potential problem at the back end of the bullpen could rear its ugly head.
It took about three hours.
The Red Sox debuts of Vicente Padilla and Mark Melancon, and the debut as the official closer for Alfredo Aceves were all less than stellar, and they were the biggest culprits for Thursday’s 3-2 opening day loss to the Tigers.
It began in the bottom of the eighth, after Jon Lester had allowed just one run over his seven innings of work. Padilla’s first batter faced as a member of the Red Sox was Austin Jackson, who promptly launched a triple to deep right field. Padilla induced a groundout before intentionally walking Miguel Cabrera.
Franklin Morales then entered, getting Prince Fielder to fly out to shallow center, but Jackson was able to score on the sacrifice fly to double Detroit’s lead.
The real problems, though, came in the ninth.
With Bailey on the shelf for months after thumb surgery, Melancon and Aceves figure to be leaned on heavily between now and midsummer, and they were thrust into action immediately. After the Sox found new life with two runs in the top of the ninth to tie the game, Melancon struggled mightily. He surrendered a deep fly ball from Ryan Raburn that made its way to the warning track to start the inning. Next up was Jhonny Peralta, who blooped a single into right on the second pitch he saw. Melancon then couldn’t put away Alex Avila after jumping ahead to an 0-2 count. Avila took ball one and fouled off a pair of Melancon offerings, before finally singling into shallow left.
Melancon left the game having allowed the two hits and getting just one swing and miss in his 10 pitches.
In stepped Aceves, who was tabbed by manager Bobby Valentine as the team’s closer in Bailey’s absence. While it wasn’t a save situation, Thursday’s outing offered signs of potential problems having Aceves in such a role.
The right-hander entered the tie game with runners on the corners and one out, and on his third pitch, he hit the Tigers No. 9 hitter, Ramon Santiago, a career .249 hitter.
With the bases then loaded, Aceves fell behind 2-1 to Austin Jackson, a hitter not known for his patience at the plate. Jackson then smoked the next Aceves offering down the third base line, past a diving Nick Punto, for the game-winning run.
Aceves threw seven pitches, and he had more hit batsmen than he did swings and misses.
Despite the outcome, Valentine wasn’t ready to panic, instead hinting that the Tigers’ success in the ninth inning was due as much to fortunate placement of hits as it was anything else.
“Mark came in, got a bloop, one fell in front of Cody [Ross],” Valentine said. “[Aceves] threw a pretty good pitch that got by the catcher, hit the guy in the foot I guess .. then a ground ball by the infielder. … We had a couple elusive outs there.”
Aceves, likewise, felt he did what he wanted to do but just didn’t get the desired result.
“You get ahead in the count, which I did. Also get a ground ball, get them to make contact and put the ball in play,” said Aceves, who maintained his alarming weakness from last season, when he allowed 11 of 29 inherited runners to score. “They got lucky. Unfortunately, we lost today.”
Of course, certain things get blown out of proportion based on the insanely small sample size of opening day, and ultimately, the results of Thursday’s loss in Detroit won’t have long-term implications on the Red Sox season. However, if those results become a trend — something that seems more than a little possible at this point in time — then the Red Sox could have a bigger problem in the back end of their bullpen than initially anticipated.
Follow Michael on Twitter @michaelFhurley