Manager Bobby Valentine mentioned during Thursday's game against the Yankees that Vicente Padilla was no longer in the running for one of the two starting jobs. That leaves the Red Sox down to four pitchers vying for the roles: while all might end up as starters at some point in 2012, just two will be lined up as such in time for Opening Day.
Padilla signed a minor-league contract with incentives that change based on whether he starts or relieves. His stated preference is to start, but he's lost that battle for now. He still has the ability to opt-out, but should he choose to stick around, there could be room in the Red Sox bullpen for him.
He's stretched out as a starter, and has thrown 17-1/3 innings this spring already. He could be your standard middle reliever for the Red Sox, should Daniel Bard and one of either Aaron Cook or Felix Doubront makes it into the rotation. He doesn't have a ton of experience in relief, with his only season of any real length in that role coming back in 2000. Padilla was productive with the Diamondbacks (2.31 ERA, 3.0 K/BB in 35 innings) and disastrous with the Phillies (5.34 ERA, 1.2 K/BB in 30-1/3 frames). That was also more than a decade ago, when Padilla was just 22 and had all of 2-2/3 major league innings under his belt.
1,500-plus innings later, the Dodgers put him in the bullpen again, but he logged just 8-2/3 frames before going down with the injuries that allowed the Red Sox to sign him to a minor league deal to begin with. It's difficult to glean anything from that stint, given the limited number of innings to look at and the fact he was dealing with injuries while pitching.
Should Alfredo Aceves be one of the winners of the rotation battle, then Padilla could slide into Aceves's old slot -- maybe not as someone they lean on to throw significant innings in terms of importance, but significant innings in terms of quantity. Aceves remains the man for this job in this author's eyes, but should he move to the rotation despite those protestations, someone will need to fill the long-man role.
Padilla hasn't pitched well this spring and has dealt with some minor injury problems, so there's a non-zero chance he is sent to the minors, paid an extra $100,000 bonus per the rules of the new collective bargaining agreement, and becomes part of that rotation and Boston's starting depth. With Doubront, Andrew Miller, and Michael Bowden all out of options, if the Red Sox think Padilla will stick around despite an assignment to Pawtucket, he might end up there to give them more time to see what they have in this group of arms. That job might also go to Cook in the short-term, given he's behind the schedule of the other starters and has just 9-1/3 spring innings.
This will all come together very soon, given that Opening Day is in sight and the spring training rotation will need to mirror the actual one sooner than later. Where's your preference for Padilla in 2012?