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Ross Ohlendorf looks forward to renewed opportunity in Boston

02.16.12 at 2:51 pm ET
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FORT MYERS — The 2011 season was one to forget for Ross Ohlendorf. After recording a 3.98 ERA in 50 starts for the Pirates in 2009-10, he missed the final six weeks of the 2010 season with a shoulder injury, worked his way back to the mound for the start of last year and made just two starts (giving up seven runs in 8 2/3 innings) before landing back on the DL with a shoulder injury.

He did not pitch again in the majors until August, when he made seven starts in which he went 1-3 with an 8.40 ERA. That, in turn, led the Pirates to decline to tender him a contract after the season, thus making the right-hander from Princeton a free agent.

“I was hurt almost the whole season. I was on the DL for so long,” Ohlendorf said on Thursday morning, hours after signing a minor league deal with the Red Sox. “Then, when I came back, my arm felt fine but I just didn’€™t get off to a good start. I felt like I had one good game. I definitely plan on pitching better this year.”

Despite the poor numbers, the Sox saw promise when they scouted Ohlendorf late last year. His fastball was up to 95 mph with life and he showed what the team evaluated as an average to plus curveball and changeup. The team met with him and saw him throw during the offseason in his home of Austin, Texas, and became convinced not only of his intelligence and enthusiasm for the game but also saw a pitcher who could be intriguing as either a starter or reliever.

The Sox’ minor league deal with him would pay Ohlendorf $900,000 if he reaches the majors. He represents an interesting addition not just for the immediate term but beyond, since if Ohlendorf is added to the big league roster, he has a minor league option remaining, and he will not be eligible for free agency until after the 2015 2014 season. So, if Ohlendorf bounces back, he could impact the Sox for a few seasons to come.

In that sense, his addition by the Sox on the cusp of spring training harbors some similarities to the signing last February of right-hander Alfredo Aceves. Both are former Yankees with options left; both were coming off of disappointing seasons that were derailed by injuries; both offered flexibility as starters or relievers, with the roster flexibility of a minor league option and the longer-term flexibility of remaining under team control for a significant stretch.

Of course, Ohlendorf’s ability to impact the Sox is predicated upon his ability to be healthy, which the right-hander says he now is.

“I feel really good,” said Ohlendorf. “I feel like the ball is coming out as well as it’€™s come out in a few years.”

Ohlendorf said that he had a number of clubs who expressed interest in signing him. But for a player who reached the major leagues with the Yankees before solidifying his place in the majors with a Pirates team that, while he was a contributor, was just about always out of contention (Ohlendorf was sidelined last year when Pittsburgh made an early-season run in the NL Central), Ohlendorf knew that he wanted to return to an environment where games would always matter. From that standpoint, his decision was fairly clear, particularly given that opportunities do exist with the Red Sox in both the majors and minors.

He ended up waiting until deeper into the offseason than he would have liked. Ohlendorf noted that, ideally, he would have liked to have signed about two weeks ago. That said, he is eager for the opportunity that now awaits him.

“I did have a lot of other offers, but I feel like there’€™s a good opportunity here ‘€“ a good opportunity to be on a really good team, which is really something I was looking for. I’€™m really excited to be here,” said Ohlendorf. “When I got traded to Pittsburgh, at the point where I was in my career, it was a really good opportunity. But I feel like now, I’€™m really excited about having the opportunity to compete for a World Series.
Obviously, the Red Sox are that caliber of team every year. When I was with New York, I really enjoyed it, especially the Red Sox-Yankees games. There’€™s so much excitement. Fans are really into everything. I’€™m excited about that.”

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