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36-year-old relievers don't generally have breakout seasons. Enter Scott Atchison.
But for an injury and the advent of Junichi Tazawa, Scott Atchison may be able to claim the title of Boston's best surprise this season. And while that's not a terribly high bar to set in a year of disappointments, there's no denying Atchison had one heck of a year for a 36-year-old reliever who just a few years ago had been playing in Japan.
Atchison's year got off to a poor start when he allowed a run in his first inning of work, part of an awful 10-0 loss to the Tigers. And from there, he basically played the role of Alfredo Aceves in 2011. Three scoreless innings against Toronto in Boston's first win of the season, four frames on one-run ball against a Rangers team that would put up 18 in the game, and three more strong innings against the Yankees and Twins would bring Atchison's ERA down to 1.56.
Unfortunately, it wouldn't be until June that Bobby Valentine started offering Aceves some high-leverage innings, and by that point there was only about a month left to Atchison before his UCL would give way. For a player his age, there was a real possibility that that could be it for his career. Tommy John Surgery and all the rehab that comes with it, after all, is not exactly the ideal situation for a guy with a career expiration date likely just a few years off.
Somehow, though, Atchison managed to wait it out, and managed to come back in September, albeit only for 5.1 innings. Still, with just five hits allowed and those innings being scoreless, Atchison seems to have come back strong. His velocity wasn't at quite the heights that it hit in the middle of the season, but given that those days of 92 MPH heat were already a bit of a career aberration (and not present for his strong start), that's not really reason for concern.
Atchison may have missed his opportunity to really lock in a spot in the late innings. Junichi Tazawa is going to be hard to dislodge from the eighth (or preferably the fireman role) while, like it or not, Andrew Bailey is likely to get another shot at the ninth. But being another strong piece in a deep bullpen isn't exactly something to be upset about.