Red Sox notes: Edward Mujica, Andrew Miller could close when Koji Uehara is unavailable

February 25, 2014 - 9:01 am

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Red Sox have seen in-season changes to the closer's role in each of the last two seasons. In 2012, the anticipated design of Andrew Bailey as the closer with Mark Melancon as the fallback didn't materialize with Bailey suffering a thumb injury on the cusp of the regular season and Melancon struggling in spring training, and so it was Alfredo Aceves who assumed ninth-inning duties. In 2013, the Sox went through Joel Hanrahan, Bailey and Junichi Tazawa as closers before Koji Uehara claimed -- and ultimately dominated in -- the role. Mindful of that history, the Red Sox signed right-hander Edward Mujica -- an All-Star closer for the Cardinals last season before he struggled late -- to a two-year deal this winter. Mujica represents one fallback to Uehara, but he's not alone, with Sox manager John Farrell suggesting that he wouldn't rule out Andrew Miller for any closing opportunities that might arise when Uehara is unavailable. Mujica had 37 saves and a 2.78 ERA for the Cardinals last year; in his career, he has 7.2 strikeouts and just 0.7 walks per nine innings. Miller, meanwhile, showed electrifying stuff last year, with a 2.64 ERA and a whopping 14.1 strikeouts per nine in 2013, along with 5.0 walks per nine, before suffering a season-ending tear of a ligament in his foot. While Tazawa wasn't mentioned as a potential closing fallback to Uehara, in time, he could join that group. "[Tazawa has] got that [closing] ability. How he potentially grows into that role remains to be seen," said Farrell. "We saw a little bit different approach in those ninth innings when it wasn't a save situation, and that's where there was a willingness to go to Koji in that spot. There's no limits on what his eventual role might be." Overall, Farrell suggested that with strike-throwers like Mujica (0.7 walks per nine), Uehara (1.1 BB/9), Tazawa (1.6 BB/9) and Burke Badenhop (1.7 BB/9) -- who ranked first, third, eighth and 12th among all big league relievers in fewest walks per nine innings (min. 50 innings) -- his bullpen is deep in viable late-innings weapons that should permit him to avoid overuse of any single pitcher. "They've got a long track record of very good strike-throwers. They don't create havoc on the basepaths by issuing base on balls. They've got an out pitch. They've been effective against opposite sides of the plate," said Farrell. "They have characteristics that allow you to have that trust in them." OTHER RED SOX NOTES -- Outfielder Shane Victorino, who underwent thumb surgery last month, has progressed in his hitting work, but Farrell said there's no timetable for him to enter games this spring. Given the number of injuries that Victorino suffered to his core last year -- groin, lower back, hip, etc. -- the team wants him to spend some time strengthening his core before getting him ready for games. "We just feel like there'€™s more base and foundation that we can build physically before ramping up the work," said Farrell. "We just felt like there were more specific needs we wanted to address before they might flare up as we experienced a year ago." Farrell said that there is no concern about Victorino's readiness to start the year. -- While Daniel Nava won't play in exhibition games on either Thursday or Friday, his neck has improved to the point where he will take batting practice on Wednesday. -- Outfielder Grady Sizemore has faced fewer physical limitations and less hesitancy than the Sox anticipated, said Farrell, resulting on his readiness to play with the opening of the exhibition season on Monday.