- Gordon Edes, ESPN Staff Writer
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- How Red Sox manager Farrell plans to deploy his bullpen at the start of the season is coming into sharper focus. First, even though he says the team has yet to make a decision regarding Daniel Bard, all signs point to Bard opening the season in Pawtucket, which puts Clayton Mortensen on the club. Here's my rundown, pitcher by pitcher, of the pen, which I'll follow with some general observations.
Closer: Joel Hanrahan. Ignore the numbers (0-1, 8.53 ERA in 8 appearances). The reports on how he's throwing are all very good, and there is every reason to expect he'll continue the success he had the last two seasons in Pittsburgh. No one I've spoken to questions whether he has the makeup to handle Boston.
Setup: Andrew Bailey. Now healthy, Bailey has looked like the guy the Sox thought they traded for last winter when they gave up Josh Reddick. Nine punchouts, zero walks in 7 2/3 innings. He'll be used in lots of high-leverage situations.
Setup: Koji Uehara. The only question about Uehara is durability. Unscored upon in eight appearances. Great deception, which accents his high-80s fastball, terrific splitter, outstanding control (43 K's, 3 walks last season), will probably be used to complement Andrew Miller against lefties (.188 average against). He turns 38 on April 3, so Farrell will be careful, but if Uehara stays healthy, he'll rank as a great pickup by Ben Cherington.
Left-handed specialist: Andrew Miller. Twelve K's in 7 1/3 innings just reinforces the notion, widely shared by scouts, that Miller has finally found his niche in the big leagues after a real struggle early in his career. He has been keeping his fastball down in the zone and exhibited excellent bite on his slider. Miller, because of his past history of being erratic (not to mention being 6-foot-7), is one of these guys who makes hitters uncomfortable in the box, a good thing.
Setup/long man: Junichi Tazawa. Tazawa assured himself of seeing plenty of high-leverage innings with his eye-opening performance last season. He also has the kind of arm that can give Farrell multiple innings. See him as a sixth-seventh inning pitcher.
Long man: Alfredo Aceves. Again, I implore you to set aside the occasional shenanigans. Aceves is an important part of the Sox pitching staff. He gives the Sox much-needed depth in the rotation, and as long as he can be persuaded to be satisfied with his role, Farrell should be able to make this work. One scout who saw Aceves in Dunedin on Friday said he looked indifferent early, his velocity hovering around 87-88 mph with his fastball. But then it all clicked in. Aceves was spotting his cutter, curve and changeup on both sides of the plate, by the fifth inning his fastball was clocking 90-93 mph, and overall it was a virtuoso performance. When Farrell says Aceves can be as effective as he was in 2011, when he went 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA, made four starts and recorded two saves, he's not blowing smoke.
"Abuse" man: Clayton Mortensen. Bit of a harsher term for the role than mop-up man, the guy who comes in with the club five runs behind and saves the rest of the pen. But with lefties Franklin Morales and Craig Breslow starting the season on the disabled list and Bard still a work in progress, Mortensen is poised to seize an opportunity. His time may prove to be short, once the injured lefties come back, but with an ability to change speeds and a good changeup, Mortensen could be Scott Atchison-like, ultimately earning the chance to show what he can do in higher-leverage situations.
The bullpen has a chance to be a real strength of this ballclub. It offers power arms, depth, youth and experience.
Which brings us to Bard. His last two outings, including a stint in a minor league game Friday, did not go well, as Farrell acknowledged Saturday morning. Multiple scouts who have seen Bard said they do not see him being major league ready, and one said that the Sox should still be concerned whether he will ever regain the dominating form he showed in 2010 and 2011. His velocity topped out at 95 on Friday but generally sat at 92-93, still well below the high-90s velocity he regularly showed at his best.
"There's still work to be done," Farrell said.
Bard is scheduled to throw at least three more times here, including Saturday. What would Farrell like to see?
"Consistency," he said. "Consistency, not only repeating his delivery but that will lead to execution of location within the strike zone."
His take on Bard's velocity and whether it is increasing:
"It is going that way," Farrell said. "I don't think it's where it ultimately will end up, but it should continue to increase by virtue of repeating his delivery and gaining some confidence along the way. I think it's important to note that while he's had a couple of less than [effective] outings, the three previous were what we hoped to see.
"It's important to note Daniel is aware of this. This is no flipping of the switch. This is a step process he's making solid progress in."
Farrell said he would like to see Bard attack the first hitter more effectively, "rather than taking a hitter to get into the inning. That kind of lends to the consistency we're trying to find."
Given that he acknowledges there is work to be done, how tough a decision is it, really, on whether Bard begins the season with the big league team or in Pawtucket?
"The best way I can answer that is we haven't decided it," Farrell said.