Friday, January 15, 2010

Red Sox expect big things from Delcarmen

The Red Sox have lost Takashi Saito and Billy Wagner from the bullpen they took into the American League Division Series and haven't added any name bigger than Boof Bonser, a former starter with a live arm who seemed to wash out with the Minnesota Twins.

Pitching coach John Farrell, though, has one more move in mind.

"One of the biggest acquisitions we could make is getting Manny Delcarmen back to the form he was for the two and a half years prior to the second half of the '09 season," Farrell said on Thursday night before the Boston baseball writers' dinner. "He was one of the top four or five middle relievers in all of baseball. He's a key part of our bullpen, and getting him back to the form he pitched with for that two-and-a-half-year stretch will go a long way toward putting him in that same type of category of performer that he was."

The disastrous way Delcarmen finished last season does obscure the way Delcarmen had pitched for the Red Sox the two years previous. Only six middle relievers had a lower opponents' OPS than Delcarmen in 2007 and 2008 combined:

(min. 80 IP, max. 20 saves)
1. Carlos Marmol, .508 OPS
2. Russ Springer, .550
3. Heath Bell, .567
4. Joba Chamberlain, .585
5. Hideki Okajima, .586
6. Rafael Soriano, .586
7. Manny Delcarmen, .590

Only four relief pitchers -- Marmol, Soriano, Springer and Pat Neshek -- limited opponents to a lower batting average (.197) in that two-year span.

Delcarmen didn't start the 2009 season off too badly, either -- as evidenced by the 0.00 ERA he took into early May. He didn't allow his first earned run of the season until his 12th appearance, and he didn't allow his third earned run of the season until his 20th. His ERA still was 1.07 on June 9 and as low as 1.93 on July 8.

That's when it all started going downhill. Delcarmen allowed two runs and took the loss against Oakland on July 28 and allowed two more runs in the ridiculous 18-10 game at Baltimore four days later. The low point of his season came in September when he allowed four earned runs in two-thirds of an inning -- and that came on the heels of an appearance in which he allowed two earned runs without recording an out.

The Red Sox had virtually no choice but to leave him off the ALDS roster in favor of Paul Byrd.

That doesn't mean, though, they've given up on him.

"A lot of times, the most recent outings are the most fresh in guys' minds and how they draw confidence," Farrell said. "It'll be important for us to get him into a confident state as we get into spring training and continue to build on that."

Delcarmen and his agent disclosed in December that he'd been pitching through fatigue in his shoulder in the second half, something he hadn't told the team during the season. It couldn't have been a stunning disclosure after he'd made 73 appearances the previous season -- but if he'd told the team ahead of time, they might have made the decision to shut him down sooner.

Either way, with a winter's worth of rest behind him, the righty will have a chance to assert himself once again as the team's best weapon against mix-and-match lineups: In his career, righthanded hitters actually have a higher OPS against him (.719) than lefties (.664).

"There was some fatigue that set on him with his shoulder toward the end of the season, and that's what kept him off the postseason roster," Farrell said. "It wasn't to the extent of a major injury, but it was enough to affect the results in certain outings. At that point, it became a little bit of a confidence issue. He didn't have the need for any repair or anything like that.

"He's still Manny Delcarmen, the guy that was very effective for us, and we anticipate and expect him to get back to that level."

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