Cherington: Melancon is capable of closing

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Cherington: Melancon is capable of closing

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.

Blakely: Game 4 loss shows just how much Celtics miss Isaiah

Blakely: Game 4 loss shows just how much Celtics miss Isaiah

CLEVELAND --  Down the stretch in Game 4, the Celtics were desperate for someone, anyone, who could slow down Kyrie Irving.
 
But short of that, Boston could have used an offensive closer, too. You know, someone like Isaiah Thomas.

GAME 4: CAVS 112, CELTICS 99

 

The Celtics have relied on the two-time All-Star to carry much of the offensive burden this season, but he was almost always at his best in the fourth quarter.
 
A right hip injury knocked him out of this series after 1 1/2 games. Still, Boston managed to win Game 3 without him and, for large chunks of Tuesday night, seemed poised to beat the Cavs again on their home floor.
 
But as much as Game 4 was a reminder of just how special a talent Irving is (42 points, 21 in the third quarter when the game’s momentum swung in Cleveland's favor), it also provided a clue to the clueless who thought the Celtics were actually better without Isaiah Thomas.
 
Defensively?
 
Absolutely.
 
It’s no secret that teams go to great lengths to try and use his 5-foot-9 stature against him. And as we have seen, the deeper we get into the postseason the more trouble he and the Celtics seem to encounter from a defensive standpoint.
 
But just as we praise Irving for being such a special talent, Thomas has shown that he, too, has offensive gifts that, throughout this season, have left many fans, media and defenders befuddled as to how “the little fella” keeps coming up with one big play, one big shot after another.
 
But as we have learned, he has been dealing with a sore right hip injury for several weeks. The pain and discomfort eventually became too much to bear and so the Celtics did the right thing and shut him down.
 
Without him, the C's are still a good team that on any given night can knock off anyone, even the defending champs.
 
But as Game 4 reminded us, they need Thomas in order to be their best.
 
When Irving torched Boston’s entire defense with jumpers, ankle-breaking crossovers, Euro-step lay-ups and free throws, the Celtics had no one to turn to who could maybe, just maybe, go back at Irving at the other end of the floor.
 
That's what Thomas does that makes him such a special, unique talent in this league.
 
He can score in a variety of ways, with the best in the NBA.
 
We saw that this past season, when he led all players in the Eastern Conference in scoring with a 28.9 points-per-game average.
 
Boston’s excellent ball movement and high assist numbers are certainly important to the team’s success. But to make a deep and meaningful playoff run, you need one or two guys who can just go get buckets regardless of what the opponent does defensively.
 
That’s not Avery Bradley.
 
That’s not Al Horford.
 
That’s not Kelly Olynyk.
 
You can search, poke and prod this roster all you want, and you'll come up empty when it comes to finding a player like that . . . other than Isaiah Thomas.
 
The fact the Celtics were able to avoid getting swept is a victory of sorts in itself. Boston’s coaching staff, as well as the front office, has repeatedly said that as talented as their team is, they aren’t on the same level of the defending champion Cavaliers.
 
And yet here we are four games into this series and the Celtics are basically a bad half of basketball away from being tied, 2-2.
 
It says a lot about their mental toughness, their ability to handle and navigate past adversity to give themselves a chance to be competitive against any team -- including the Cavs.
 
But their success this season has always been about the collective group, regardless of how many late-game shots Isaiah Thomas knocks down.
 
And while he has his shortcomings defensively, not having him available is going to hurt them in those late-game moments when they need a closer. It’s not a coincidence the Celtics were just 2-4 when he didn’t play during the regular season.
 
So as cool as it was for them to win Game 3 without Thomas, he’s still the straw that stirs the Celtics emotionally, bringing them to levels few think they're capable of reaching.
 
They were able to get by for one night without him, but remember this: It took Marcus Smart having an Isaiah Thomas-like game of 27 points and seven made 3’s, for them to win.
 
No one did anything remotely close to that Tuesday night.
 
They looked like the Isaiah Thomas-less Celtics, which is a look they don’t need this time of year.
 
Because that look is so not about winning.