Red Sox Have Middle-Relief Options Aplenty

Red Sox Have Middle-Relief Options Aplenty There they sit each morning, casually kicked back in a row of folding chairs on the east end of the Red Sox clubhouse as if they’re waiting for coffee from their wives.

Joe Nelson, Brian Shouse and Scott Atchison — whose average age is 36 — are often seen chatting quietly with one another as the rest of the room buzzes with activity. One has no hair and the other two are flirting with salt-and-pepper status, and while the young guys just happy to be in camp buzz around them, the trio creates the most relaxed corner of the clubhouse.

The funny thing is that none of them are even assured a job. Perhaps their ease then comes from experience, knowing that while middle relievers can have an enormous impact on a team, they represent the most fluid group on a major league club.

“These guys are hard to evaluate, especially early in spring training,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.

That’s why the aforementioned threesome, and others such as Boof Bonser and at least one of the guys named Ramon Ramirez, will continue to get looks over the last two weeks of March before the Sox settle on a group which can form a bridge to the back of the bullpen.

Francona has been rather pleased with Nelson, Shouse and Atchison. In Nelson, he sees a guy who can use a changeup to get left-handers out and who will throw strikes. Shouse is in the mix to provide another lefty to ease the burden on Hideki Okajima. Atchison, as the skipper has said, has already begun his regular season, knowing that landing a job after two years in Japan will take maximum effort.

“He’s done a great job,” Francona recently said of Atchison. “He's throwing three pitches for strikes — fastball, cutter and changeup. He throws strikes and gets some outs.”

Atchison’s spring has been almost perfect and the trio has combined to go 3-0 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 Grapefruit League outings.

Others in the mix include the aforementioned Bonser, who is trying to resurrect a once-promising career after missing all of 2009. He’s not doing himself many favors by allowing four runs in five innings this spring. Ramon A. Ramirez, the import from Cincinnati, has yielded just one run but walked four men in 1/13 innings on Sunday against the Twins.

Jorge Sosa, Robert Manuel and Chad Paronto are also getting looks, and Francona insists that the team is intrigued in lanky lefty Dustin Richardson, who was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket on Wednesday to work on his control.

Richardson appeared in three games with the Sox last season and has been in the system since 2006.

It gives Boston some viable options going north. However, the landscape in those fifth, sixth and seventh innings will likely look very different in September than it does in April. During the 2004 season, for example, the Sox had names like Lenny DiNardo, Anastacio Martinez and Mark Malaska getting some of those outs through the first part of the season. In 2007, Brendan Donnelly and Kyle Snyder were in the mix early, but both were out of it once the playoffs rolled around due to various circumstances.

DiNardo, Martinez, Malaska, Donnelly and Snyder. Not exactly the first names which come to mind when you think of the glory years.

Nelson, Shouse and Atchison are just fine with that. You can see it each morning in the most relaxed corner of the clubhouse.

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