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Mark Melancon: Market wasn’t responsible for struggles in Boston

07.15.13 at 7:34 pm ET
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One year after he struggled in Boston, Pirates reliever Mark Melancon earned an All-Star nod. (AP)

One year after he struggled in Boston, Pirates reliever Mark Melancon earned an All-Star nod. (AP)

NEW YORK — It seems hard to fathom. Mark Melancon struggled so badly at the start of 2012, after the Red Sox had acquired the former Astros closer in exchange for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland, that he was demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket in April. He ended his Boston tenure with a 6.20 ERA in 41 games, and by the time he was dealt to the Pirates (along with Jerry Sands, Stolmy Pimentel and Ivan De Jesus Jr. in exchange for Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt), there seemed a public consensus that he simply wasn’t equipped to handle the demands of Boston.

In some ways, that suspicion has gained further ammunition as a result of what’s happened this year. While Hanrahan was lost for the year due to surgery to repair a torn flexor mass and a torn Tommy John ligament, Melancon has been nothing short of dominant for the Pirates. He’s thrown 44 1/3 innings (almost the same as the 45 he threw with the Sox), working to a dazzling 0.81 ERA with 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings and a microscopic 0.8 walks per nine, earning an All-Star spot in the process.

But, Melancon insists, the disparity in his performance in Houston and Pittsburgh as compared to Boston had nothing to do with the relative pressures of those markets.

“The market didn’t really matter,” said Melancon. “It was going through some mechanical issues, going through some different stuff like that. That’s not even in the realm of what was going on.”

Indeed, it is worth noting that Melancon turned around his season while still with the Sox. After his demotion in April, he talked to his pitching coach with the Astros, Brad Arnsberg, who helped him to start performing at the same level he’d been at in Houston.

“Mechanical was just a little bit of it. It was a mentality and an attitude I had to change,” Melancon said of his conversation with Arnsberg. “The approach when I went into the game, I almost picture it as I was taking a starter mentality into a relieving situation. That’s just something that you’re always tinkering with, like your curveball. The game is so finicky when you get to such a high level that you’re always trying to manipulate things to be that much better. Every little bit makes a big difference. I think my approach going into the game changed, and it helped me a lot. You can’t even notice it when I’m pitching now from when I was in Boston, but there is a difference within myself.”

Melancon had a 0.83 ERA over 21 appearances in Pawtucket, striking out 27 and walking three. Called back up to the big leagues in mid-June, he had a 4.19 mark in his final 37 appearances of the year — but had two dominant stretches, one right after he’d been called up, when from mid-June to mid-July he had a 0.55 ERA, 13 strikeouts and two walks in 16 1/3 innings, and the other over his final eight games, when he had a 0.90 ERA in 10 innings while punching out 13 and walking one. So, there were runs like the one he’s been on in 2013 in Pittsburgh, just not as sustained.

“Pitching well, after I got through that, it was like, ‘That was me. That’s what I should be doing, and I expect to do that,’ ” said Melancon.” Don’t get me wrong, it was nice to have that last run. But that’s who I anticipate myself being.”

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