Andrew Bailey is making a strong push to be the Red Sox' full-time closer. (Getty Images) Andrew Bailey is making a strong push to be the Red Sox' full-time closer. (Getty Images)

What a difference a year makes for Red Sox reliever Andrew Bailey. The 28-year-old Bailey missed the first 116 games of last season recovering from right thumb surgery. When he did return in 2012, he wasn’t overly impressive. In 19 appearances and 15 1/3 innings, he had an ERA of 7.04 and struck out 14, while recording four saves.

Despite not being at his best, Bailey has made few excuses, but did acknowledge missing so much time may have played some role in his performance.

“It’s tough missing that much time,” Bailey said. “I went out there trying to nail the ballgames down for the team and there are no excuses. I was out there performing and I needed to get the job done, and I wasn’t able to do that. I think with a full, healthy off-season and a good spring training I am looking forward to continuing what I am doing now.”

 

Many believed Bailey would be traded this offseason following the acquisition of closer Joel Hanrahan from Pittsburgh, but he’s emerged as one of the biggest pieces to the bullpen through the first 20 games. Bailey has opened the season strong, first as the set-up man before taking over as closer when Hanrahan was placed on the disabled list April 16 with a hamstring issue. He’s recorded four saves in five chances, while nine of his 11 performances have been scoreless. Also, he is tied for the American League relief lead in strikeouts with 17 and was named co-AL Player of the Week for the week ending April 21.

“Being healthy, that’s key,” Bailey said of his start to the year. “Other than that, just staying aggressive and throwing strikes. For me the game doesn’t change whatever inning you’re throwing, but I think the biggest difference is I am healthy.”

The right-hander has relied heavily on his fastball this season, even touching 95 and 96 MPH on a few occasions. Sixty-eight percent of his pitches have been fastballs, to just 25 percent cutters and six percent changeups. Bailey says he’s not paying attention to his velocity right now.

“Not really, I’ve always touched where I am at consistently,” he said. “I don’t fully expect it to be there all year. Usually I am 93-94 MPH, so I really wouldn’t take that much stock in it.”

The dilemma now is when Hanrahan returns, who assumes the role as closer? Hanrahan had some rough outings, which led to his DL-stint, while Bailey has impressed in his Red Sox appearances to go along with his experience as a closer in three seasons in Oakland. Appearing on MLB Network Radio Tuesday afternoon, manager John Farrell hinted it may be Bailey due to his performance, as well as past history.

"I think out of respect to both guys, we've got to get through Joel's rehab, and then based on what Andrew's done in his career," the Sox skipper said. "I wouldn't certainly announce this publicly before sitting down with either guy or both guys at the same time and say, 'Hey, this is the plan we're going through.' That'll be coming up here hopefully by the end of the weekend or early next week."

Follow Metro Red Sox writer Ryan Hannable on Twitter @hannable84

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