Cherington: Melancon is capable of closing

Cherington: Melancon is capable of closing
December 15, 2011, 5:50 pm
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BOSTON Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington believes right-hander Mark Melancon could fill the Red Sox vacant closer role.

Melancon was acquired Wednesday in a trade with the Astros for infielder Jed Lowrie and right-hander Kyle Weiland.

We believe hes definitely capable of closing, capable of pitching in the ninth inning for us, Cherington said. But those are questions that manager Bobby Valentine, and with help from his pitching coach during spring training, will answer and figure out the right roles for everyone.

Melancon, who turns 27 in March, is returning to the American League East after being sent from the Yankees to Houston at the 2010 trading deadline (along with third baseman Jimmy Paredes) for Lance Berkman. In 15 appearances with the Yankees in 2009 and 2010, over 20 13 innings, he posted a record of 0-1 (4.87).He has appeared in just one game at Fenway Park, on April 26, 2009, when he threw the two scoreless innings of a 4-1 Red Sox win. He is not eligible for arbitration until 2014 and not eligible for free agency until 2017.

Melancon was a ninth-round pick of the Yankees in 2006 out of the University of Arizona. He appeared in a career-high 71 games posting a record of 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA, and led the 56-106 Astros with 20 saves (and five blown saves) last season. He took over the closers role for Houston when Brandon Lyon was injured early in the season, recording his first career save May 6 in Pittsburgh. In three major league seasons with the Yankees and Astros, Melancon has appeared in 106 games, with a record of 10-5 (3.21). Melancon had a 2.54 strikeouts-per-walks ratio and 1.224 WHIP last season.

According to fangraphs.com, Melancon threw his fastball 52.2 percent of the time last season at an average velocity of 92.8 mph, his curveball 27.5 percent at 82.7 mph, and a changeup 3.1 percent at 84.5. The frequency of those pitches was done last season as he added a cutter to his repertoire for the first time, throwing it 17.2 percent of the time, at 92.1 mph.

We really like his stuff and have liked his stuff back to his college days at Arizona and we feel like the second half of his season he really developed a better feel for his cutter, Cherington said. Hes always had a good curveball. Hes a really aggressive pitcher, tough, confident. We think he has enough intangibles to compete in the American League East. So just felt that he was a really good upgrade to our bullpen.

But at least two major league scouts disagree with Cherington on Melancons ability to close, especially in the division.

Melancon is a solid arm for the back end of the bullpen, but not an AL East closer, said one.

Another was even more emphatic.

No way. No way, said the second. Straight fastball. He throws pretty hard. But his fastballs pretty straight. He relies on a big curveball. Thats his best pitch. Hes one of those guys you can throw him in the mix in the seventh and eighth inning, and for match-ups.

Cherington has maintained throughout the offseason that he is comfortable going into spring training without a defined closer.

We dont feel its completely necessary, he said. We have in the past done that and theres been other years where we havent. And I think that, as Ive said before, I think wed like to have a closer, a defined closer on Opening Day. And we believe Melancon is fully capable of doing that. Were going to keep working and again as I said Bobby will make those decisions with help from his pitching coach during spring training.

Cherington said he is comfortable with the ninth-inning options he currently has Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves, Bobby Jenks, in addition to Melancon but will likely continue to look for upgrades.

We felt like we had some options eve before this trade, some guys that could do it, guys that have done it in the past, guys that we think are ready to do it, perhaps, he said. Melancon certainly adds an important piece and a guy that has done it recently and more recently than anyone else on our roster. So, we feel pretty good about the way the back of the bullpen is shaping up. But theres certainly time between now and spring training and were going to continue to look for ways to make the team better.

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