PAWTUCKET â€” Despite posting downright gaudy numbers in his shortlived Red Sox stint, Clayton Mortensen was farmed out to Pawtucket because of one simple yet often overlooked factoid.
He still has minor-league options remaining.
Guys like Mortensen, they perform a service akin to a security blanket. To the big-league teams, to have a player with options still on the table, creates the kind of roster flexibility that can prove most handy.
Whenever a need arises, be it adding an extra positional player or a fresh arm the day following a lengthy, extra-inning contest, players with options know that thereâ€™s a pretty good chance theyâ€™re going to be pegged as the sacrificial lamb. As Mortensen explained one day after making room for outfielder Daniel Nava in Boston, itâ€™s a routine in which heâ€™s become rather accustomed.
â€śItâ€™s still tough because when you go up (to the majors), you want to stay and perform well enough that they canâ€™t send me down,â€ť explained Mortensen while sitting in the home dugout inside McCoy Stadium. â€śWhen they have to make a move, I completely understand. Iâ€™m the one guy who can go back down and get recalled whenever. Itâ€™s part of the game and something Iâ€™ve grown accustomed to over the past few years.
â€śItâ€™s definitely stressful, but itâ€™s only stressful if you let it become stressful. Itâ€™s a part of the game thatâ€™s completely out of your control,â€ť Mortensen continued. â€śWhat Iâ€™ve learned over the years is to not take anything for granted. When you do get that chance to go up there, you go out there without any regrets.â€ť
The Red Sox represent the fourth MLB team in which Mortensen has pitched. Such a high total speaks volumes about his ability, yet also demonstrates that the 2007 supplemental-round selection of the St. Louis Cardinals has faced an uphill climb to stick on a permanent basis.
Such is life when a ballplayer still has options attached to his name. You can perform like Mortensen did over the 9 1/3 innings he tossed for Boston, which consisted of one run coming on a Mark Reynolds homer last weekend, and know that in the back of your mind, a change of scenery is always possible.
â€śI know I didnâ€™t pitch poorly up there. I threw the ball well and did what I was supposed to do,â€ť said the 28-year-old. â€śThey needed me for that [Mortensenâ€™s stint with Boston began on May 2] and then they needed an outfielder. Iâ€™m not mad about it; I just need to come down here and keep on working.â€ť
This season marks the last time Mortensen will ever experience the feeling that goes with being a human yo-yo. Come next year, there will be a different aura surrounding him â€“ the kind that goes with the territory of having â€śout of optionsâ€ť stamped on their respective professional careers.
As someone who recently spent time in the same bullpen as Scott Atchison, Mortensen can appreciate how a player, who as recently as 2011 was subjected to frequent call-ups and â€śsend-downs,â€ť is able to perform free and easy without the threat of options dangling over his head.
Indeed, Atchisonâ€™s name was in heavy rotation on the transaction wire last season, the 36-year-old righty summoned six times to Boston was farmed out in five instances.
Clearly Atchison has taken to the newfound lease on his baseball life, knowing that for a refreshing change, he has some say in his own destiny. He carried a 1.23 ERA spanning 14 games and 22 innings heading into Friday, which also includes 15 strikeouts and opponents hitting .203 against him.
â€śIâ€™m sure it would be a sigh of relief in the sense that theyâ€™re not going to send me down if I have one bad outing,â€ť said Mortensen about the kind of baseball security that Atchison is presently enjoying.
â€śYou still have to have to keep that grit inside of you, that youâ€™re still going to keep on competing,â€ť Mortensen added. â€śMore or less, (being devoid of options) makes it so that they canâ€™t shift you up and down as much. Thatâ€™s something that would be a benefit.â€ť
To PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler, players like Mortensen are simply part of a tangled web that will not last forever.
â€śYouâ€™ve got to make a business decision. If youâ€™ve got guys that you can send up and down as opposed to guys you might lose, thatâ€™s good business and how the game works,â€ť Beyeler said. â€śThose are the rules and you play within the rules. Itâ€™s unfortunate for the players, but once youâ€™re out of options, you get to be in those situations where maybe you do get a few more benefits than other guys.â€ť