BOSTON, MA - Mark Melancon #37 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after he gave up a home run to Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Mark Melancon was supposed to be a major piece of the Red Sox bullpen in 2012. Before Andrew Bailey was acquired -- and again after it was found he required thumb surgery -- Melancon was considered an option to close. Alfredo Aceves won the closer job, though, and Melancon was relegated to setup work.
His spring didn't go so well, with groundballs not existing for him despite a career tendency to induce them regardless of how well he was pitching overall. These problems increased when the real games started, with Melancon facing 18 batters and getting just six of them out. That, by the way, is just one more out than he had home runs allowed, and that home run total in turn matched the number of long balls he surrendered in all of 2011 with the Astros.
The problem was likely mechanical, as Melancon continued to miss targets and leave the ball up in the zone. Not only did this prohibit him from inducing groundballs (or even getting into a count where he could use those pitches), but it allowed opponents to tee off.
Melancon has now thrown three innings in Pawtucket as he attempts to recapture his previous mechanics and maybe a little bit of the confidence that the Rangers shattered. Things are looking good to this point, with Melancon recording six strikeouts over three innings, against zero walks. As for the outs in play, he has four times as many groundball outs as flyball outs (which, given how many outs we're working with, is four grounders against one air out).
It's all small sample stuff, and it's just the International League, but the Mark Melancon of a week ago looked like he would have struggled against his old college teammates. Not everything is perfect yet, either, as he's hit two batters with pitches. He's coming along, though, and when he's smoothed things out, he'll be back with the Red Sox where he was supposed to be. We might not know if his problems are behind him until he gets back, though.