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Brad Mills on Mark Melancon: ‘He has the stuff’ to close in AL East

12.14.11 at 10:23 pm ET

Astros manager Brad Mills is familiar with the rigors of the American League East from his six years as Red Sox bench coach. It is a division where the back-end bullpen options are not merely passable arms. Instead, it requires dominant stuff to handle the late-game responsibilities against the most ferocious ensemble of lineups of any division.

Mills is also familiar with reliever Mark Melancon, whom his club dealt to the Red Sox on Wednesday in exchange for both infielder Jed Lowrie and right-hander Kyle Weiland. Melancon emerged as the Astros closer in 2011, when Brandon Lyon went down with an injury early in the season. Melancon thrived in the role, recording 20 saves and posting a 2.78 ERA while pitching 74 1/3 innings in 71 appearances.

Given the perspective borne of his time with both the Astros and Red Sox, Mills suggested that he believes Melancon has the talent to succeed as a closer for the Red Sox.

“I’€™m not going to sit here and say he’€™s going to dominate when he hasn’€™t been there, but he has the stuff to do it. He’€™s going to come in there, in that situation, and give it everything he can to do it,” Mills said by phone on Wednesday. “Once he sees that his stuff can play, and it is good enough to do it, once he sees it, then he’€™ll take the ball and run with it.”

Mills saw a similar phenomenon in play when Melancon became his closer in May. By the end of the year, the right-hander was dominating opponents. In his last 11 appearances, he did not allow any runs, permitting just three hits and walking two while striking out 15 batters in 11 2/3 innings.

“We just had to see if he could do it. He was throwing the ball the best at that time and we didn’€™t have anyone else and let’€™s give him the opportunity to do it,” said Mills. “Once he was able to get that confidence, get going, he just took the ball with it and ran. The way he ended the season on such a high note, throwing the ball so well, it was great to see.”

Mills said that, in addition to his fastball and above-average curveball, Melancon developed a cutter that became an impactful pitch down the stretch. He is also working on a changeup that has shown some progress.

After seeing Melancon pitch in 71 games, Mills also believes that the reliever has the makeup to remain durable and reliable going forward.

“I would bet on that, yes. The type of individual that he is, and the type of pitcher he’€™s been for us, he’€™s shown that strength and the ability to do that,” said Mills. “He’€™s going to need some days off, as everybody does, and as he works into it, he’€™ll need some time to build up some strength. But that’€™s not just him. That’€™s everyone. He’€™s a good pitcher and everyone in Boston will enjoy watching him.

“People use the word heart, maybe a little too much, but that’€™s the word that comes to mind when we talk about him. He’€™s one of the greatest guys you’€™re going to meet. He wants to do whatever he can to help the ballclub win. It’€™s all about the 25 guys on the ballclub, and not whether he’€™s getting saves,” added Mills. “He’€™s a quality individual. We’€™re sorry we had to get rid of him, but at the same time, we’€™re able to get two quality players, and we had to give up a good quality player.”

While Mills was sorry to see a valued contributor depart, he also felt that doing so in this deal with the Red Sox was a fairly obvious path to take. Given Houston’s wide-ranging needs after a 106-loss season, Mills suggested that new Astros GM Jeff Luhnow was right to make this deal.

“There’€™s no doubt Mark addressed one need for us. That was the back end of our bullpen,” Mills said. “Well, right now, there are some other needs we have to address to get there. We do have some young arms in the organization, not that they can necessarily fill his shoes, but maybe they can give it a shot and we’€™ll go from there.”

Weiland will slot into the rotation. As for Lowrie, Mills believes that the 27-year-old will benefit from a new opportunity after enjoying only sporadic playing time in Boston due to a combination of both injuries and competition at the position. Mills saw Lowrie during one of his most impressive stretches in the majors, when he became a key contributor for the 2008 Red Sox team that reached the playoffs, and he is hopeful that with an everyday opportunity to play shortstop, Lowrie can re-establish his career and reach the considerable offensive potential that has been on display at times.

“That would sure be nice if he was ready to step in and be our everyday shortstop. I had a great talk with Jed today. I think it’€™s going to be great for him in Houston,” said Mills. “If he steps up and is able to be our everyday shortstop, that helps everybody out. It’€™s going to help our career and it’€™s sure going to help our ballclub and our organization.

“It’€™s almost like you’€™re going to wipe the slate clean and almost start all over. That’€™s the situation that he’€™s in. He has the opportunity to do that. He has a lot of skills. He’€™s shown that at times in Boston,” he added. “We know he has those abilities. Any time we can get an offensive guy like Jed, and a guy who’€™s talented and able to play three infield positions ‘€“ or really all four ‘€“ it’€™s nice.”

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