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BALTIMORE — When Andrew Bailey tore a ligament in his right thumb near the end of spring training, the Red Sox considered using Mark Melancon as their closer.
The job went to Alfredo Aceves, but Melancon was expected to be the primary set-up man.
Before the season was three weeks old, Melancon had been demoted to Triple A Pawtucket and was there for nearly two months.
“At one point I just stopped looking at my statistics,” Melancon said before the Sox played the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday. “It was pretty bad.”
Melancon toted a 7.71 earned run average and a 1.48 WHIP into September. Over 35 innings, he had allowed eight home runs. If manager Bobby Valentine used him, it was usually in low-leverage situations.
But having nothing left to lose helped turn Melancon back into the pitcher he was supposed to be all along. In seven appearances this month, he has allowed one run on four hits with one walk and 12 strikeouts.
“I’m at my best when I’m aggressive and that’s basically what I’m doing,” Melancon said. “I’m throwing my pitches harder and trying to challenge hitters. At this point, why not?”
Valentine said Melancon’s curveball has made the biggest difference.
“We’re getting swings and misses on it and we’re getting called strikes,” he said. “The righthanded hitters are buckled a little. I believe that pitch has improved with arm speed and deception.”
Valentine said Melancon also is using his improved fastball effectively to both sides of the plate. The pitch, which has hit 97 miles per hour in recent outings, is diving through the strike zone.
“Probably had it the whole time. He never got the ball rolling and we never got it rolling for him in a proper flow of things,” the manager said.
Jacoby Ellsbury, who had last played Sept. 20, was back in the Sox lineup after resting a strained left lat muscle. He went 1 for 4, singling and scoring in the sixth inning.
Why not shut Ellsbury down at this point?
“He wanted to [play] and he’s a good player and it’s a pennant race that teams are in. We should put our best foot forward,” Valentine said. “This isn’t a situation that is threatening, the way I see it. It’s just to get him to feel 100 percent and I guess he does.
“If there’s anything that could take five days of his winter, where he can’t work out as much as he’d like to, I wouldn’t even think about it. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
In 2011, Ellsbury hit .321 with a .928 OPS and was second in the American League MVP voting. But he went into Saturday’s game hitting .277 with a .704 OPS. He has four home runs in 289 at-bats.
“Never quite hit his stride this year,” Valentine said. “I had a lot of conversations with the coaching staff about it and a few with Jacoby about it. It’s just the feel; he hasn’t had the feel from what I gather.”
The Sox will pitch Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, and Daisuke Matsuzaka in the Yankees series to end the season. The Yankees have CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Hiroki Kuroda lined up. David Phelps could swap in for Nova . . . The Orioles unveiled a statue of Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson on the plaza outside of Camden Yards before the game. Cal Ripken Jr., Earl Weaver, Boog Powell, Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray, and other notable O’s were in attendance. Robinson was the American League MVP in 1964 and won an amazing 16 Gold Gloves from 1960-75. Red Sox senior adviser Dr. Charles Steinberg, a former Orioles executive and a close friend of Robinson, was among the speakers . . . There are only three games left in the season, but the Orioles made a roster move. They claimed outfielder Steve Pearce off waivers from the Yankees and added him to the 40-man roster. Pearce started the season with the Yankees and was traded to the Orioles on June 2. He was claimed off waivers by the Astros on July 28 then traded to the Yankees on Aug. 27.