Yesterday, the Boston Red Sox recalled right handed reliever Mark Melancon and placed lefty reliever Rich Hill on the DL with elbow tightness. A great deal has changed for the Red Sox and for Melancon since the embattled reliever was first optioned to AAA Pawtucket on April 20. At that time, the Boston Red Sox bullpen was easily the worst in the game and Melancon was a major reason why. He retired just six batters of the first 18 he faced to start the year and allowed five home runs, including a walk off shot in the second game of the year against the Detroit Tigers and a three home run inning against the Texas Rangers.
The Red Sox bullpen has completed turned things around. In the last month they have been one of the best in the game, with a 2.69 ERA and a 3.09 FIP in 77 innings. Relievers like Vicente Padilla, Scott Atchison and Andrew Miller have stepped up and claimed important roles in the revamped pen and closer Alfredo Aceves has shaken off his early season rust and begun doing a fairly good impression of the departed Jonathan Papelbon. In fact, the Red Sox bullpen has been so successful that it has taken the injury to Hill to make room for Melancon.
Melancon has done everything he needed to do at AAAto earn his way back to Boston and he appears ready to be a significant contributor to the bullpen now. During his time at AAA, he has thrown 21.2 innings and has allowed just two runs. He has also struck out 27 and walked just three hitters. Most importantly, though, he is keeping the ball on the ground. Last season, as the closer for the Houston Astros, Melancon had a 56.7% ground ball rate. In his brief appearances at the start of the season for Boston, just three of the 15 balls in play were earth-bound.
With Melancon back in the mix, Boston has a number capable late inning relievers and even more stocked away in Pawtucket. Junichi Tazawa, who was first called up when Melancon was sent down is down on the farm despite not allowing a single run or a walk in his brief six inning appearance in the show. Clayton Mortensen is still waiting for another chance in the majors after dominating in his first call up. The former Colorado Rockies pitcher struck out 12 while walking none and allowing just six hits and one run in 11 innings, but as one of a very limited number of players with options, Mortensen is stuck for the time being.
It will be interesting to see how Bobby Valentine employs Melancon now that he is back with the big league club. He was originally slated to set up for Aceves, but with Padilla and Atchison pitching so well and Andrew Miller around to dominate lefties, there may be few high leverage innings left for Melancon.