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The Bullpen Through May

The Sox are in good shape in the bullpen. Papelbon has been very solid - unspectacular perhaps but solid. He has a 2.91 ERA, 29 strikeouts in 21 innings with only 3 walks. Bard looks good as well. Similarly, he's not been untouchable but there's nothing there to be concerned about.

The next two in the bullpen pecking order - counting from closer to Dennis Lamp - were supposed to be Bobby Jenks and Hideki Okajima (arguably). Oki seems to be done. He'll make another appearance in Boston this year, but I think this is his last and it's very unlikely he'd be added to any postseason roster. He recently cleared waivers and returned to Pawtucket.

Jenks still has the power stuff but when he's been bad, he's been painfully bad. He's rehabbing in Pawtucket right now. He has a 9.35 ERA but he also only pitched 11 games including one where he gave up 4 runs in a third of an inning and the last three appearance before going onto the DL in which he gave up 5 earned runs in 2 1/3 innings. He'll still be a major contributor this year and in all likelihood a key bridge between the starters and PapelBard.

Every good bullpen involves successful scrap. So it's a good sign that the Sox have so far found two unexpectedly good bullpen cogs. Righty Matt Albers had his bad moments lately. But he still looks like Bobby Jenks with more movement. I think Tito sees that Albers is on the cusp of a breakthrough and he's trying to feed that fire. It's looking good.

Meanwhile, lefty Rich Hill has looked rock solid so far. The big question, especially since he has a new sidearm motion and has mostly been a starter, is what will he do when - not if - he fails in the spotlight. How will he bounce back? I am hopeful but the Sox might still need a lefty out there.

The Sox just called up Michael Bowden from Pawtucket in exchange for recently acquired lefty Franklin Morales who went on the DL. I really think Bowden might be a special bullpen guy. Watching him start he always seemed to have that agressive approach of any good bullpen guy. One of these years he's going to stay. I think this might be that moment.

Dan Wheeler was supposed to be rock solid with his AL East background, his return home, and the fact that the solid middle-man is the same role he's succeeded at before. His stuff isn't very good but it never has been. I hope he shows us.

After that you have Alfredo Aceves who has been very solid as a started and for whom my only concern is that he will suffer a let down after pitching so well as a started and still being sent back to the pen when John Lackey returns.

Lastly, Tim Wakefield's time in the bullpen relies on the well-founded belief that you really need 6 starters. And Scott Atchison was solid last year and will be just as solid this year if he gets a chance. Given the players in front of him, I frankly hope he doesn't get that chance.

As we knew at the start of the year, the Sox have questions in finding a bullpen lefty and there's a bit of a problem with some folks changing roles or locations. That said, the Sox are in very good shape. The greatest concerns coming into the season really haven't panned out: is Papelbon on the down slope and was Bard a one-hit wonder.

The Sox have one of the best pens in the game. There's a little room for improvement and I'm not totally sold on Albers and Hill, but it's looking good.


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