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Struggling Gagné knows relief is in sight

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Eric Gagné says he's upbeat and positive, and claims he has no regrets about accepting a trade to the Red Sox despite his rough start.

"At this point in my career, I've proven that I can close games," Gagné said yesterday. "I've proven that I can perform at a high level, but the chance to get to a World Series is what attracted me to this team.

"I know things have started out rough, but I'm not looking back. I did what I did because I believe this team can win the World Series and you don't get that chance too often in your career. So I'm just here trying to help Jonathan Papelbon out. I wish I'd have started better but hopefully things will get better."

They did last night against the Devil Rays, Gagné throwing a scoreless eighth inning during a 2-1 loss and lowering his ERA with the Sox to 8.89 over nine outings. But it was the first eight appearances, which included two blown saves, that have made others second-guess the team's big trade deadline acquisition.

Gagné dismissed rumors that he might be hurt, or that his arm is fatigued from having missed essentially two seasons because of elbow and back surgeries before signing a free agent deal with the Rangers in the offseason.

"I feel fine," Gagné said. "There's nothing wrong with me. I haven't forgotten how to pitch, either. I'm just not pitching well. I'm not locating well. There are things I'm just not doing as fluidly as I was and it has nothing to do with anything other than I've got to pitch better."

Making the transition from closer to setup man hasn't been an issue, either, he said.

"No. For me it's been the same. I know I'm not closing games, but I'm getting ready the same way I always have. I'm approaching the eighth inning or whenever I come in the same way I would normally approach it. That has nothing to do with it.

"Baseball is baseball and pitching is pitching. It's not as if this is new to me. I've been in very tough situations before, so I'm not doing anything that I haven't done before."

The Globe recently ran a breakdown provided by Inside Edge, showing the frequency and pattern of his pitches. It showed that Gagné threw his fastball 52.2 percent of the time with the Rangers, and 61.6 percent with the Sox. With two strikes, he threw his fastball 48.7 percent of the time with the Rangers, and 72.7 percent with the Sox. He threw his changeup 41.1 percent of the time with two strikes with Texas, only 22.7 percent with the Sox.

The study also showed that after throwing a fastball, Gagné was more prone to repeating the pitch with the Sox (65.3 percent) than he was with the Rangers (52.2 percent). After a fastball strike, the percentage increase of another fastball has been even more pronounced: 41.5 percent with Texas, 63.8 percent with the Sox.

Gagné said stats don't tell the correct story.

"I've been behind on the count a lot," Gagné said when asked why he's throwing his changeup less. "When you're behind on the count you're going to throw more fastballs. That's the biggest reason I'm throwing the pitches that I'm throwing. When I'm ahead on the count everything else is normal."

Gagné has been buoyed by the support he's received in the Sox clubhouse, from players who know what he has accomplished in the past and what he could offer down the stretch drive.

So far, the trade that sent Kason Gabbard, David Murphy, and prospect Engel Beltre to the Rangers has worked out famously for Texas. Despite one alarming case of forearm stiffness, Gabbard has pitched well, while Murphy has had offensive success in limited action.

Gagné is very impressed with Papelbon. "He could be the new Mariano Rivera," Gagné said. "He could have 10-12 years as a closer in this league. He's pretty special. Before I got here I knew he was good, but now I know how good he is -- and he's phenomenal really."

Gagné says he doesn't think about the offseason, when he hits the free agent market again. He made a sizable sacrifice in giving up his closer's status, which could impact his market value.

"I knew what I was doing," Gagné said. "I enjoyed Texas and being on that team. I was pitching well there, but I keep going back to being on a team that can win it all. Personal accolades don't mean anything at this stage of my career. Being here and seeing the way this team approaches things, this is the best team I've ever been on."

He was asked about how the Sox monitor Papelbon's workload, and whether that might have been lacking in how he was used over the years.

"I would never second-guess that," Gagné said. "I always wanted the ball. I'd pitch every day if you let me, so for me to say that I was used too much and burned out, you'll never hear that from me. I think the way they're using Jonathan is great. The important thing is staying healthy. If you can stay healthy you're going to have a long and productive career. If he's in a situation like now, where you have three or four other guys who can close games, that's just going to help him that much more. He doesn't have to feel that burden of being the only guy. So, I think that's good for him in the long run."

Gagné sees no reason why his fortunes won't turn. After an early-season dip in velocity, he feels he can amp it up to between 93-96 miles per hour, which he says "is pretty close to what it was [with the Dodgers]."

"I think every year I've been in the league I've had to make adjustments," he said. "Year to year you have to make them, and appearance to appearance, so I've got to keep adjusting to make this right again. I'm not lacking any confidence. Like I said, I know I can still pitch. I haven't forgotten. I've got to get out there and just do it and put the bad stuff behind me."

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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