Alan Embree had an itch. A return to the Red Sox may allow him to scratch it.
The 40-year-old Embree is getting a second chance to pitch for the Sox after signing a minor league contract Saturday and getting invited to the team's major league camp.
His presence adds an experienced arm into a crowded group of guys trying to slide into the bullpen when the team heads north, and Embree said he is not far from being thrown into the fire.
"I feel 100 percent," said Embree, who indicated that the deal went down this week after the team sent a scout to Oregon to see the veteran throw. "I've been able to do everything that everyone else can do. Work load, I'm the same guy. I can throw 65 games if they need me to. I'm here to fit in."
Embree took his physical Saturday morning in Fort Myers and was present for some workouts.
Manager Terry Francona talked earlier this week about not wearing out Hideki Okajima, and with Embree in the fold he has another left handed option — along with Brian Shouse — in camp. Embree, however, was never considered just a lefty specialist and knows the terrain in Fenway.
"He wasn't scared to take the ball, even when he didn't feel good," Francona said of Embree, who has faced 638 more right-handers than left-handers in his career. "And then I remember after he left, after he got cleaned up, he started throwing the ball pretty good again. …He faces who he faces."
The "cleaning up" process involved surgery on his arm after the 2005 season, which he split between Boston and the New York Yankees.
In 2006 he had a 3.27 ERA with San Diego and in 2007 a 3.97 mark with Oakland. Last season, he pitched in 36 games with Colorado before a hard comebacker broke his right tibia July 10, requiring surgery that placed a titanium rod into his leg.
The injury nearly pushed Embree into retirement, but a late-season rehab stint and an offseason spent skiing and playing basketball with his kids told him the leg would not be an issue. The desire for competition kept him in shape, just in case a call came from a team needing a lefthanded reliever.
"It was one of those things where I've got to scratch the itch," he said.
Originally drafted by Cleveland in 1989, Embree admitted that if had not received any inquiries by July or August he would have considered retirement.
Embree, who was 8-9 with a 4.69 ERA in 211 appearances with the Sox from 2002-05, will be recalled in Boston for some great postseason performances. He was 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in 19 playoff games with the team and launched himself into Red Sox lore by recording the final out of the 2004 American League Championship Series in Yankee Stadium.
He called it one of the highlights of his career and gave a take on things that should bring a smile to Sox fans who recall that memorable run.
"The year before we were losers on that same field," Embree said Saturday. "I remember Mike [Timlin] and I warming up in the bullpen that same night and thinking what a deja vu all over again type of thing. But we came out on top so it was nice to celebrate on their field."
Embree actually relieved Timlin with two outs in the ninth before getting Ruben Sierra to ground to second.
"That's the one clip you see more than anything is the ground ball to Pokey [Reese] and you see him jump in the air," Francona said. "So that's something that sticks out for me."
The catcher on the field during that moment was Jason Varitek, who said he saw plenty from Embree when the lefty was with Oakland in 2007 and 2008 to know there's something left.
"When he was in Oakland he was still powerful," Varitek said. "Alan's been a huge part of this bullpen before. I look forward to him being a part of it again."
There is some work to be done before that becomes a reality.
Francona insisted that Embree will get some looks before any determinations are made to put him into an actual game. And the other pitchers auditioning for spots in the bullpen — Shouse, Joe Nelson, Scott Atchison, specifically — are not being pushed aside.
"Guys in this camp, I'm sure their radar has gone up," Francona said. "That's not what we're trying to do either."
Embree said he is about four or five days away from being ready to pitch in a game.
Although Francona eyes Embree as someone to face both righties and lefties, he has always had slightly better numbers against those stepping in from the left side.
For his career, Embree has held lefties to a .239 average. Right handers have hit .264 against him.
The Sox are hopeful he has some of that ability left, although lefties hit a robust .326 against him in 2009, while righties were at .264.
As recently as 2007 he limited left handers to a .205 mark and they hit .251 against him in his two full seasons with the Red Sox.
With two weeks to go before Opening Day and some uncertainty still in the pen, Francona simply likes the idea of potentially strengthening the system, even if Embree's status with the team remains to be seen.
"If you don't have guys in the bullpen, the manager looks stupid," Francona said.
Embree made Francona look smart from time to time in the past. He has a chance to do so again.
In 16 years in the majors with 10 teams, Embree is 39-45 with 25 saves and a 4.59 ERA. He is ninth all-time among left handers and second among active southpaws with 878 career relief outings.
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