Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Scott Atchison pitches during the sixth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE
It might have seemed strange for Scott Atchison to come into a game where the Red Sox were down by just one run. Except for in late 2010, when Boston's bullpen lacked a third option out of the pen and forced Atchison into the role, he's been something more of a mop-up man, pitching multiple innings in lower-leverage situations. The fact the Red Sox designated him for assignment -- and that he cleared waivers -- should give you some insight into how important he was not considered.
But there he was last night, coming in after Felix Doubront's five strong, but short, innings. Atchison stayed in for three frames of his own, and he did what he usually does: he threw strikes. Lots and lots of strikes. He picked up around a league-average rate of whiffs on his slider, but more Atchison-esque was his ability to throw it in the strike zone. His two-seamer went for a strike five of the seven times he threw it, and his four-seamer five of the six times it was thrown.
Atchison doesn't always have the same results -- sometimes he gives up homers or hits because he lives in the strike zone. That's what makes him either great or disappointing, depending on the day. If he's hitting the strike zone and all of his spots exactly, as he did last night, then it's difficult for the opposition to do much. He lives on the corners, and it's hard for hitters to hit it hard from there.
Then there are the days where he doesn't hit his spots. Like in many 2010 appearances, when Atchison gave up nine homers in 60 innings (1.4 per nine) and 37 runs for a 5.55 Run Average. Over his Red Sox career, though, he has a 3.99 ERA, 2.4 K/BB and 0.9 homers per nine in 94-2/3 innings pitched, so he's been useful, just not great.
If he can be more 2011 than 2010, then, just like with Vicente Padilla, the Red Sox have someone they can throw innings that formerly would have gone to Alfredo Aceves to. Atchison has averaged 1-2/3 innings per appearance with the Sox, so he's shown he can do the longer outing thing. Whether or not he can keep pitching well in those appearances is another question, but if he keeps throwing like he did last night, it's not going to be Atchison sent down when the Red Sox cut down from 13 to 12 pitchers. If he reverts to 2010 Atchison, though, then the Red Sox won't have to worry about losing him on waivers when he's designated again.