Atchison proving reliable with outstanding play

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Atchison proving reliable with outstanding play

Thanks to injury (Andrew Bailey) and early-season ineffectiveness (Mark Melancon), the Red Sox bullpen has been a work in progress almost from Opening Day.

When the season began, Scott Atchison was viewed a middle- or long-reliever, capable of giving the Red Sox multiple innings at a time.

"When I was putting the bullpen together," said Bobby Valentine, "the one thing I knew was that he had some length in him, that he was able to throw 45 pitches and give up a couple, three innings and I didn't really have that in anyone else. So at the beginning, that was what he was doing and when he was pitching his two-plus innings, he was getting everyone out."

Almost one-third of the way into the season, however, Atchison has been given a role of more prominence. Instead of coming into the game in the fourth or fifth inning when the Sox are trailing, he's earned the confidence of Valentine and is now viewed as more of a trusted set-up man.

"He obviously now had elevated himself," said Valentine, "to where he's a righthander I can count on to get righthanders and lefthanders out."

Case in point: on Monday, Atchison came in for the seventh, with the Sox leading by four and contributed two scoreless innings while racking up four strikeouts.

Atchison is unscored upon in his last dozen outings, covering 17 13 innings and his ERA has dipped to minuscule 0.93.

"It's been good," said Atchison of his recent run. "I'm trying not really think about what I'm doing. I'm just going out there and keeping the same approach and throwing strikes. It's been a good stretch and hopefully I'll keep it going."

Atchison isn't concerned about his role or when or how long he pitches. To him, the mission is the same.

"I feel like I can do any of those things, pitch in (different) roles," he said. "I feel like that's how they're using me -- if some righties are coming up, they bring me in. If it's the long situation, I'm the guy who's stretch out, too, so I can go out and do that. I'm just kind of ready for whatever situation. When they call, if he says me, I get ready to go."

Atchison's success has dovetailed with the improved work of the bullpen in general and the relievers have found that good outings can be contagious.

"We're doing great," said Atchison. "Everybody's throwing the ball really well. You're going to give up runs here and there. But if you hand us the lead, I feel like we're doing good; if we're behind, I feel like everybody's throwing the ball well and keeping us in the game.

"We've bonded as a group down there and everybody's comfortable that, when phone rings, if it's their turn, they're going to go out and do their job. And if they don't somebody's going to pick them up. That's kind of been our motto."

Porcello following Belichick’s lead, moving 'on to 2017'

Porcello following Belichick’s lead, moving 'on to 2017'

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- Flashback to January 2016, it’s the first night of Red Sox Winter Weekend, where fans welcome Rick Porcello with a vanilla reception -- no different than that of any one of the coaches. The right-hander is coming off a disappointing 2015, where he’d been given a four-year extension before throwing a regular season pitch and didn’t exactly perform to the level he’d hoped.

Now flash foward to Friday night, same event, just a year later. Porcello is introduced at the Town Hall event at Foxwoods to kick off the weekend and receives a welcome truly rivaled only by the AL MVP runner-up, Mookie Betts.

“You know, they were both pretty similar,” Porcello joked with reporters when comparing his 2016 reception to Friday’s.

Makes sense. Winning a Cy Young Award can change public perception.

But after his dominant 22-4 regular season, Porcello -- along with the rest of the starting rotation -- couldn’t deliver in the postseason. While he was visibly upset during and after his lone 2016 postseason start, Porcello is taking the Bill Belichick approach and says he's moving on from the outing -- and his memorable regular season, too.

“Just like any other start, you’ve gotta find ways to get over that stuff,” Porcello said. “It doesn’t feel good to go out there and not win Game 1, but I’m on to 2017 now -- and really everything that’s happened in 2016 is behind me. The season that I had, the postseason I had and we’re on to this year and what we can accomplish this year.”

“Moving on” from struggling times and great successes tends to bode well for athletes and players in this town. Maybe that’s what made all the difference for Porcello in making the jump from 2015 to 2016.

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

BOSTON -- Every year it seems like there are major issues or question marks to start spring training where the answers are up in the air.

In 2015, the Red Sox lacked an ace, had Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and Pablo Sandoval coming to town.

In 2016, Ramirez was moving back to the infield, but at a new position, and his bat was in question. Sandoval was coming off a year where he couldn’t hit his weight (he hit .245 and he last weighed in at 255 pounds). How would the starting rotation look after David Price?

This year, there seem to be three questions, but in a way, they’ve already been answered.

How will the Red Sox make up for David Ortiz’s absence?

Well, for one, the Red Sox have three Cy Young-caliber starting pitchers (Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) in their rotation.

And two, Hanley Ramirez is coming off a career year with his highest career output in RBI (111) and second-highest home run total (30). And while Mitch Moreland isn’t the greatest hitter, he’s good for 20 or more home runs. Plus, it seems he’s holding a spot for a certain Red Sox prospect who’s bouncing back well from an injury.

 

Will Sandoval earn the starting third base job back?

The weight loss is a good sign, not only for the physical reasons, but it shows he’s mentally committed to being better.

However, that doesn’t guarantee he gets his job back.

“I’m not going to say [third base] resolved itself,” John Farrell told CSNNE.com, “but you know Panda’s done a very good job of committing to get himself in better shape and we’re looking forward to seeing that play to in spring training.”

Even if Panda can’t put it all together, Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner, both Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge would be competing for the job as well.

Holt as plan B -- in the infield? Who wouldn’t take that?

Who’s going to start at catcher?

Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart each have their pros an cons.

Leon did it all last year, but went from hitting .383 in his first 39 games to .242 in his last 39.

Vazquez has Ivan Rodriguez-esque abilities behind the plate, but couldn’t keep the staff under control last year and cannot hit.

Swihart, who turns 25 April 3, is the youngest of the three, has the most potential at the plate, but is far and away the worst of the three defensively at the most important defensive position -- excluding pitcher -- on the field.

They all have their drawbacks, but they’ve all shown at some point why they can be the Red Sox starting catcher in the present and future.

Everywhere else, the Red Sox seem to be in a comfortable position as pitchers and catchers reporting to camp draws ever nearer.

“I think the fact that we’ve got veteran players that have done a great job in staying healthy [and] young players that are getting more establishing in their return, we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the overall status of our position player group,” Farrell told CSNNE.com.

And it seems some players are confident in the team’s options as they ready for camp.

“We’re looking good in a lot of areas,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com. “Especially the pitching staff, [since] we just got Chris Sale one of the best in the game.”

“Pablo’s definitely going to bounce back, especially with the weight he’s lost."