PAWTUCKET â€“ For Justin Thomas, the near month he spent as member of Bostonâ€™s bullpen was merely a case of guilt by association.
Even though the 28-year-old lefthander was relegated to afterthought status â€“ while with the Red Sox, Thomas allowed four runs in 4 2/3 innings prior to getting farmed out to Pawtucket on April 27 â€“ he was still part of a unit that became known as the land of diminished returns. No matter which reliever BoSox manager Bobby Valentine summoned, disaster seemed to follow.
Things have improved slightly, as the Red Sox no longer own the worst bullpen ERA in the American League. The unitâ€™s 4.46 mark is good for 12th best with Tampa Bay (4.55) and Toronto (4.69) the only teams sporting a worse ERA.
According to Thomas, who since joining the PawSox has appeared in four games spanning 5 1/3 innings, thereâ€™s a perfectly sound explanation as to why the bullpen couldnâ€™t gain any sort of traction in the early going.
â€śAt the beginning of the year, Bobby was learning us. He came out and told us that we wouldnâ€™t be in a specific role and that sort of stuff would iron itself out a couple of weeks down the line. We just had to be ready to go at any time,â€ť said Thomas prior to Pawtucketâ€™s 5-2 triumph against Rochester at McCoy Stadium on drizzly Wednesday night.
Granted there has been personnel changes with Thomas and Michael Bowden shipped out of Boston with Rich Hill and Andrew Miller taking their spots on the active roster. Yet as Thomas pointed out, holdovers like Scott Atchison and Franklin Morales have taken to the situations theyâ€™ve been summoned into, which in turn has allowed Valentine to slot everyone else not named Alfredo Aceves accordingly.
â€śI think if you ask any of those guys now, they definitely know what role theyâ€™re in,â€ť Thomas said. â€śMaybe in the first week or two of the season, everybody was kind of feeling things out. The manager and the pitching coach (Bob McClure) were both new so they were kind of learning what guys do in certain roles.
â€śIt was kind of like an extended audition, but now it seems guys have settled into roles that theyâ€™re probably going to have the rest of the season.â€ť
Since joining the PawSox, Thomas has morphed from being strictly a situational guy to someone who no longer has to worry about getting pulled should a baserunner reach on his watch. All of his outings in a Pawtucket uniform have covered an inning or more, a far cry from his light workload in Boston.
â€śIn the big leagues I would appear in games but not get a lot of innings,â€ť said Thomas, who all told made seven appearances with Boston. â€ś(With the PawSox), if I come in and give up a hit, itâ€™s not the end of the world. I know that I might be out there for only an inning, but itâ€™s good to know that sometimes youâ€™re going to be able to finish your inning, meaning if you put yourself in a situation, you can get yourself out.â€ť
Thomas owns the distinction as the only southpaw presently in Pawtucketâ€™s bullpen.
â€śHeâ€™s a 40-man guy so heâ€™s going to be a priority guy as far as getting innings and staying sharp,â€ť said PawSox skipper Arnie Beyeler. â€śThat way if the phone does ring, heâ€™s in contention to go up because heâ€™s a guy on the roster.â€ť
You would have never known that the conditions Wednesday were less than ideal. Pawtucket pounded out 13 hits while starter Justin Germano twirled six innings of two-run ball on his way to picking up his fourth win.
Five PawSox players registered two or more hits with Daniel Nava leading the attack with a 3-for-4/two-RBI performance. Mauro Gomez collected a two-run single in the first inning with Jose Iglesias, Lars Anderson and Che-Hsuan Lin all enjoying two-hit nights.
For Iglesias, it was his sixth multi-hit game in the shortstopâ€™s last seven starts. His batting average is now .250 â€“ up 50 points from where it stood on April 30.
Pawtucketâ€™s bullpen continues to be a strong point with Garrett Mock, Junichi Tazawa and Mark Melancon combining to toss three innings of scoreless ball. Melancon nailed down the final three outs for his second save. He struck out the first two batters before allowing back-to-back singles that brought the tying run to the plate for the Red Wings.
Melancon was able to regroup and get the third and final out as Pawtucket has now won four of its last five. The locals seek to make it 3-of-4 against the Red Wings Thursday afternoon with Brandon Duckworth (4-0, 3.34) opposing Luke French (0-0, 5.40).