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Thursday, February 10, 2011
Sox GM talks up new 'pen depth

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, speaking to reporters at the Red Sox spring training facility on Thursday about the team's bullpen, said the Sox "should be stronger than we have been in a long time at the end of games."

After lacking depth last season, the Sox added some arms in the offseason and created a surplus. The team will have a number of pitchers competing for one or two spots in the bullpen.

"It's no secret our pen wasn't very good last year," Epstein said. "We ran out of available options of guys who could come and compete and throw legitimate bullpen innings for us. That's not a situation you want to find yourself in. Hopefully we'll have more quality and quantity.

"There will be competition for the last spot or two. We should be stronger than we have been in a long time at the end of games, when [Daniel] Bard and [Bobby] Jenks are setting up for [Jonathan Papelbon]. [Dan] Wheeler is an important addition in earlier innings and we have a number of left-handed candidates. I think we have the potential for a really good bullpen, but again, it doesn't mean anything until we do it."

Former White Sox closer Jenks averaged 95 mph on his fastball last season and has back-to-back 40-save seasons to his credit. Epstein talked about on Jenks' transition from closer to a setup role.

"He's a power pitcher who can throw strikes and shut down his inning," he said. "He's somebody who's proven capable of getting important outs in the ninth inning with his combination of stuff and fearlessness. We think he can take the same approach and use it earlier in the game."

Epstein also talked about new acquisitions Alfredo Aceves, a right-handed pitcher who was recently signed and could provide depth for the Sox, either as a starter or a reliever, and lefty reliever Dennys Reyes, also recently signed who would seem to be in a similar position as Aceves.

"[Aceves] threw two good bullpens for us," Epstein said. "He had back and hip issues last season and he broke his collarbone riding a bike [in this offseason]. But he passed our physical. Based on the bullpens he threw for us, he'll have a normal spring training."

Epstein said Aceves was someone the Red Sox had interest in over the winter and that the Sox caught a break when a potential deal with another team (the Phillies) fell through.

"He's a versatile guy who will compete for a job in the bullpen and also provides valuable depth for us," he said. "One area in which we didn't have tremendous depth [last year] was in starting pitching. We needed to add someone who can start major league games and compete in the American League East. He has an opportunity for us."

On Reyes, Epstein said: "He's an interesting combination of a sinkerballer and can make lefties uncomfortable."

Epstein said pitching prospect Junichi Tazawa, who had Tommy John surgery last year, will be in big league camp and will throw off a mound, but it's still questionable whether he'll get into games. He's in the last two or three months of his rehab.

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.