Melancon deal doesn't solve Sox problems

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Melancon deal doesn't solve Sox problems

Wednesday represented a flurry of activity for the Red Sox, who traded two players for reliever Mark Melancon and signed free agent utilityinfielder Nick Punto.

But when it was over, the Red Sox hadn't made much progress toward solving their most obvious needs -- the back end of their starting rotation and a closer.

They merely gave themselves more options from which to choose, which is a polite way of saying that they succeeded in making things, for the time being at least, more complicated.

Melancon is unlikely to start 2012 as the team's closer. If he does, it should be read as an indcitment of the front office.

All of which isn't to suggest that Melancon is without value. He's young (26), apparently healthy (following Tommy John surgery earlier in his career) and controllable (he doesn't reach free agency until after the 2016 season).

And Melancon provides a quality arm, someone who can help in the seventh or eighth innings. Entrusting Melancon with the ninth inning, however, is another matter altogether.

For now, there's little evidence that Melancon can handle closing in the American League East. He converted just 80 percent of his save opportunties in the N.L. Central in 2011.

It's worth noting that against opponents from the A.L. East -- the Astros happened to play the division in interleague play last season -- Melancon allowed A.L. East batter to hit .351 with a 1.061 OPS.

True, it's a relatively small sample size (seven games). But it suggests that the Melancon may need more experience -- or another quality pitch -- before he can handle the toughest outs in the toughest lineups.

Just because Melancon isn't yet equipped to close doesn't mean the deal wasn't worthwhile.

Kyle Weiland profiles as a back-end starter and the Red Sox have plenty of candidates for that slot, including Alfredo Aceves, Felix Doubront and Andrew Miller. It was all but certain that Weiland was going to start the season at Triple A.

If he develops into much more than depth starter in the big leagues, most scouts will be surprised.

For the Sox, moving Jed Lowrie was the bigger gamble. Lowrie had value around the game, thanks to his versatility and affordability. At the very least, he can be a useful, flexible part of a big league roster, capable of playing all four infield positions and providing some pop at the plate -- at least from the right side.

But Lowrie was given chance after chance to establish himself as something more with the Red Sox, and outside of three terrific months -- July and August in 2010 and mid-April through mid-May of 2011 -- never truly made his case as an everyday player.

Only once in four seasons did he play more than half a season, his career stalled by a series of injuries and infirmities -- everything from a lingering wrist injury to mononucleosis to a shoulder issue.

Perhaps, with a fresh start and an opportunity to play every day, Lowrie will make good on his potential. But the Red Sox essentially replace Lowrie within hours of his departure with the signing of Nick Punto, a veteran utility piece who, like Lowrie, is a switch-hitter.

Roughly translated, then, the Sox got an older, more experienced version of Lowrie Wednesday and traded a potential back-end starter for a late-inning reliever with upside.

In the strictest sense, that represents a small step forward in terms of roster-building for 2012.

What it doesn't represent, for now at least, is any clearer sense of who's going to be getting the toughest outs. It gives the Sox more options without precluding further moves, some of which will surely be coming.

Or else.

Brian Johnson: 'Awesome feeling' after five-hitter vs. Mariners

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Brian Johnson: 'Awesome feeling' after five-hitter vs. Mariners

BOSTON - Brian Johnson had quite a turnaround in his second time on Fenway Park's mound.

Johnson pitched a five-hitter in his first big league appearance at Fenway, and the Boston Red Sox stretched their winning streak to a season-high six games with a 6-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Saturday.

The 26-year-old left-hander became the first Red Sox pitcher to throw a shutout in his first Fenway start since Pedro Martinez on April 11, 1998. In Johnson's first start in Fenway - his fourth as a professional - he sustained a season-ending facial fracture when he hit by a line drive while pitching for Class A Lowell in 2012.

"The last time I walked off the mound here was 2012 and I made two pitches," Johnson said. "Today I went nine innings. Today was pretty cool."

Johnson left Triple-A for a little over a month last season to get treatment for an anxiety issue.

"Obviously with some stuff that I've been gone through in my career, it's an awesome feeling" he said.

But despite the stellar outing, Johnson was optioned back to Triple-A after the game.

"That's the reality of the game," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "We had a chance to congratulate him and yet option him back to Pawtucket, with David Price coming here Monday."

Brought up from the minors for the start, Johnson (2-0) gave up five singles, struck out eight and walked none. His only previous big league starts were at Houston on July 21, 2015, and at Toronto on April 18 this year.

Johnson was helped by a semi-leaping catch by center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. at the wall in the sixth, Bradley's diving grab of Nelson Cruz's sinking liner in the ninth and Bradley's game-ending running catch of Kyle Seager's drive.

Xander Bogaerts' RBI single triggered a three-run first inning and Bradley hit a two-run homer in the sixth

Shut out for the second straight day, Seattle has lost seven of eight.

"Their guy threw the ball over the plate. He threw strikes," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "I won't take anything away from what he did, but we're not swinging the bat very well."

Rob Whalen (0-1) gave up five runs and seven hits over 5 1/3 innings in his Mariners' debut, his first big league start since Aug. 23 for Atlanta. He is Seattle's 12th starting pitcher, the most in the major leagues.

Andrew Benintendi and Sandy Leon also had RBI singles in the first, when the Red Sox had two batters hit by pitches, two walks and two runners thrown out on the bases - Dustin Pedroia at third for the first out and Hanley Ramirez at the plate for the last.

Johnson beats Mariners 6-0 for Red Sox' 6th straight win

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Johnson beats Mariners 6-0 for Red Sox' 6th straight win

BOSTON - Brian Johnson pitched a five-hitter in his first big league appearance at Fenway Park, and the Boston Red Sox stretched their winning streak to a season-high six games with a 6-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Saturday.

Brought up from Triple-A Pawtucket, Johnson (2-0) gave up five singles, struck out eight and walked none. The 26-year-old left-hander's only previous big league starts were at Houston on July 21, 2015, and at Toronto on April 18 this year.

Johnson became the first Red Sox pitcher to throw a shutout in his first Fenway start since Pedro Martinez on April 11, 1998. In Johnson's first start in Fenway - his fourth as a professional - he sustained a season-ending facial fracture when he hit by a line drive while pitching for Class A Lowell in 2012.

Johnson was helped by a semi-leaping catch by center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. at the wall in the sixth, Bradley's diving grab of Nelson Cruz's sinking liner in the ninth and Bradley's game-ending running catch of Kyle Seager's drive.

Xander Bogaerts' RBI single triggered a three-run first inning and Bradley hit a two-run homer in the sixth

Shut out for the second straight day, Seattle has lost seven of eight.

Rob Whalen (0-1) gave up five runs and seven hits over 5 1/3 innings in his Mariners' debut, his first big league start since Aug. 23 for Atlanta. He is Seattle's 12th starting pitcher, the most in the major leagues.

Andrew Benintendi and Sandy Leon also had RBI singles in the first, when the Red Sox had two batters hit by pitches, two walks and two runners thrown out on the bases - Dustin Pedroia at third for the first out and Hanley Ramirez at the plate for the last.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Mariners: RHPs Hisashi Iwakuma and Felix Hernandez, both on the DL with right shoulder inflammation, threw bullpen sessions. Hernandez said he "felt really good."... LHP James Paxton (strained forearm) is set to come off the DL and pitch at home Wednesday.

Red Sox: Pedroia was back at second base after getting Friday off to rest his sore left knee and not play on a wet field. He was hit by a pitch on the right forearm his first time up and went 1 for 3. ... 3B Pablo Sandoval, on the DL with a sprained right knee, was expected to play nine innings Saturday night in a rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket. Manager John Farrell didn't rule out that he could be activated next week.

UP NEXT

Mariners: RHP Christian Bergman (1-2, 6.30 ERA) gave up 10 runs and 14 hits over four innings in a 10-1 loss Tuesday at Washington.

Red Sox: RHP Rick Porcello (3-4, 4.35) has gone at least six innings in eight of nine starts.