BOSTON -- Call him whatever you like -- middle reliever, long man, mop-up guy, cannon fodder -- but there are few positions that generate as much turnover on a baseball roster.
Look at the Red Sox relievers who have already come and gone this season: Scott Schoeneweis, Fabio Castro, Boof Bonser, Joe Nelson. All have been jettisoned by the Sox, with Castro the latest to be designated for assignment to make room for newcomer Eric Patterson, the second baseman-outfielder.
Then there is Scott Atchison, who has spent his share of time on the discard pile, which often is the only time these guys are noticed. Atchison not only has managed to fend off the termination notices, but has come to symbolize how the Sox are winning even as bodies fall left and right.
Twice, two weeks apart, Atchison has been an emergency substitute for a Sox starting pitcher felled by injury, and given the Sox what they needed. Summoned moments before a game against the Phillies when Daisuke Matsuzaka felt some tightness in his forearm, Atchison gave the Sox three innings -- and a season-high 52 pitches -- in a collective effort by the Sox pen.
Then Saturday afternoon in San Francisco, when Clay Buchholz strained his left hamstring running the bases, Atchison came out of the Sox dugout in the second inning and delivered 2 1/3 innings, again setting the stage for the rest of the pen to close out what would become his first win in the major leagues since Aug. 31, 2004.
“Guys like Atchison,’’ manager Terry Francona said, “two months ago he was having kind of mop-up innings, now he’s coming into games [when they matter]. I guarantee he’s feeling good about himself. Now he’s coming out of games, teammates are mobbing him. Yeah, it’s a good feeling.’’
Francona cited Atchison, the 34-year-old right-hander who pitched the last two seasons in Japan, as an example of how this club has been developing its personality during these testing times. “He has been tremendous,’’ Francona said.
Between the two rescue missions, Atchison also followed rookie Felix Doubront and struck out five Dodgers in three innings to preserve a win, then entered a one-run game in Colorado in the seventh inning Thursday night and held his ground.
“It definitely feels like it’s fun to pitch when you win,’’ said Atchison, who in seven of his first nine appearances entered the game when the Sox were losing.
"It’s easier to pitch when you’re winning as far as getting yourself up. I understand my role, I know what my role is. You’re going to have times when you have to pick up innings when you’re not ahead. But it’s been nice these last couple of times to get in some exciting situations.
"It’s nice to be standing in here [in the clubhouse] high-fiving everybody as they come in the door, to be able to be part of some wins.’’