Improved Melancon credits 'attack mode'

NEW YORK -- What a difference a year makes for Mark Melancon.

In 2012, he made 41 relief appearances for the Boston Red Sox. In 45 innings, he gave up 31 earned runs, on 45 hits, for an ERA of 6.20.

Thus far in 2013, he has made 45 relief appearances for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 44 1/3 innings, he has given up four earned runs, on 31 hits, for an ERA of 0.81.

Those numbers landed Melancon on the All-Star team, the first selection of his career.

The 28-year-old said he’s made some mechanical adjustments, which help him hit his intended location more often. But he also talked Monday about a change in his mental approach -- letting it all hang out, as opposed to trying to pace himself.

“You can’t have that starter mentality as a reliever,” Melancon said. “It’s totally flipping the switch. I don’t know if that was said to me, or if I just figured that out, but it really helped me go into attack mode.”

The Red Sox traded Melancon to the Pirates last December, the day after Christmas, in the deal that netted Boston Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt. Melancon said he still keeps in touch with some of his old Red Sox teammates.

“I’m excited to see [Dustin Pedroia] and [Clay Buchholz] and David [Ortiz] -- special guys,” Melancon said. “I went down to David’s foundation thing in the Dominican this offseason. Pedey is definitely, if not the greatest, (among) the top two or three greatest teammates I’ve ever had.”

This week is a homecoming of sorts for Melancon, who was originally drafted by the New York Yankees, in the ninth round in 2006. He made his major league debut with the Yanks in 2009, but they traded him to the Houston Astros in 2010 in a deal for Lance Berkman.

“It’s a special organization,” Melancon said of the Yankees. “Obviously for everybody it’s a love-hate relationship. But for me, there’s so many people over there that have been a huge part of my life, I still keep in touch with. They gave me an opportunity, that’s a life dream. I learned so much coming up through the minors with them.

“I got the opportunity to play in New York, for the most storied franchise in sports. And then going to Boston and being on the flip side of that -- I feel like I’ve had somewhat of a young career, but I’ve experienced so much, and it’s really neat.”

This will be Melancon’s first All-Star Game, but it’ll be the 13th and final one for the legendary Mariano Rivera, who will be retiring at the end of the season.

Melancon admitted Monday that at one time he thought he’d be the one who would replace Rivera as the Yankees’ closer.

“I believed it then, and I anticipated being that,” he said. “I have some closing experience under my belt. I would have liked it to have been in New York. But like I said, everything happens for a reason, and I’ve learned so much from everywhere I’ve been that I wouldn’t want to take any experience away.”

Melancon is currently setting up for Pirates closer Jason Grilli, also an All-Star. But he had 20 saves for the Astros in 2011 and believes he will be a closer again someday, somewhere.

He also always believed he could pitch as well as he is pitching right now.

“I knew I could do it,” Melancon said. “I knew I could do it at the beginning of last season. And to be honest mentally I wasn’t that distraught last year at the very beginning of the season when I was struggling because I knew that I could do it. It was just a matter of when it was going to happen.”