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Picking up pieces -- and each other

After getting lit up, Hansen and Delcarmen hang tough

MOOSIC, Pa. -- The door between Rooms 408 and 409 was open.

For conversation, or motivation, or whatever. For understanding. For empathy.

Manny Delcarmen (408) and Craig Hansen (409) knew that this weekend, of all weekends, would require support from someone who knows exactly what it's like. What it's like to have your name mentioned as one of the top prospects in the Red Sox organization; what it's like to no longer feel like a prospect after six weeks of scintillating pitching in the majors last season; what it's like to find too many questions in the minors, when the assumption was that there would be only answers.

"I talked to RJ and my agent," said Delcarmen of Pawtucket manager Ron Johnson and Jim Masteralexis. "They flat told me, 'The way you've thrown these last three times, you know for yourself. I mean, we'll give you all the positives that we can from your outing, but you know we can't recommend you to go to the big leagues right now.' "

So both relievers watched as Devern Hansack got called up to Boston when Mike Timlin went on the disabled list last week.

There was no surprise when Red Sox manager Terry Francona mentioned the reason for Hansack's call-up was a recommendation from Pawtucket's staff that the Nicaraguan righthander was throwing the best on the Triple A club.

Delcarmen and Hansen agreed. Despite their best efforts and sincere desire, they knew that worthiness at the major league level requires more consistency and more success, neither of which has come easily this season. So, in open-door sessions coming the same week as two shockingly bad and shockingly bizarre outings by Delcarmen and Hansen, the relievers worked on a plan from their hotel rooms last weekend in Buffalo. They thought back. They remembered.

What they did. How it felt. What worked.

"Believe me, it was a good feeling," Delcarmen said. "When I first got called up, I mean, I threw 10 [times] in two months. I was frustrated. And in the six weeks we did well, the phone rang in the seventh or eighth inning and we both knew that it was either me or him. That's the best feeling you can get. Especially from the year when I got called up and the phone rang and I just sat in the bullpen like, 'It's not for me. It's not 15-5 or something.'

"[But during those weeks] every time it did ring, I mean, me and him were stretching and we knew it was for us. It was a great feeling. We've just got to get back up there."

The meltdown
For a while, he would walk back to the dugout, head bowed. No one was there to greet him. No one was there to reassure him. He knew he didn't deserve it.

"I felt like I haven't gotten, like, high-fives and pounds from the team," said Delcarmen, who pitched two scoreless innings out of the bullpen Monday in a 2-1 loss at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. "The last three times, I've just been straight putting my head down and just sitting down and nobody's talked to me, just because they know I'm out of it. But it felt really good [Monday].

"It just felt real good to be able to shake some hands and get some high-fives."

It surely felt better than the news the PawSox had made "SportsCenter." That was for the wrong reasons.

Cruising in the ninth inning in Buffalo last Saturday, up by eight runs, the slumping PawSox appeared on their way to a much-needed win. The organization's prize reliever was on the mound and it was the bottom of the ninth. But Hansen pitched to seven batters and not one made an out. All seven scored. Hansen committed an error by neglecting to cover first, compounding his problems. And then, with the reliever in need of relief, Delcarmen came on.

He walked in the winning run.

It wasn't just an implosion, but an epic implosion. And, coming on the heels of unimpressive performances for each pitcher -- Delcarmen threw two wild pitches, although he struck out the side, to take a 10th-inning loss against Indianapolis May 3; Hansen allowed four earned runs in two-thirds of an inning in a 12-4 loss to Buffalo April 30 -- the meltdown, in which the pair faced a combined 13 batters and got one out, prompted disappointment, most of all in themselves.

"I don't think a small snapshot of performance changes our view of their potential ML ability, but it does highlight where development is needed most," Mike Hazen, the Red Sox director of player development, wrote in an e-mail. "Both pitchers have been extremely motivated in their work and commitment to getting back to the ML's and we feel they will be able to impact the ML club at some point this year."

Though the outings illustrated the Sox' decision to start the pair in the minors -- something that was hardly questioned for Hansen in spring training -- they have led to a reconsidered regimen for the pitchers. Perhaps learning together, they will have a more mature outlook on the steps it might take to get back to Boston.

"Those past two outings, a person would get on and, right away, I would go into panic mode," said Hansen, 23. "I learned that's not the right way to think. That's not the right way to go about it. You're going to get hit and you're going to get hit hard sometimes. That's something that, as a professional, you've got to deal with."

Running mates
By 9 a.m. Wednesday, Delcarmen was running sprints around the warning track of PNC Field, home of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Two hours before game time, he was joined by Travis Hughes, but Hansen wasn't there yet.

On Tuesday, Hansen -- who missed much of spring training with a lingering back injury -- acknowledged he wasn't always able to complete the day's running goal, part of the pair's newfound routine, because of a stiff back. He also acknowledged running through the pain. He attributes the injury to sleeping in the wrong position on buses and planes.

That's just part of a work ethic praised by Pawtucket pitching coach Mike Griffin as "off the charts." Hansen's pure stuff is nasty, when it's on. Yet it was the former lobsterman, Hansack, who was called up to Boston instead of the former first-round pick. And when Hansack was optioned to Pawtucket yesterday, the Red Sox recalled . . . Javier Lopez.

"I'm not going to say it should be me," Hansen said. "I want it to be me. I want myself to be ready enough so when they call down here, RJ can be like, 'Hansen wants to be out there. I could just tell in his mentality.'

"They're looking at, 'Are you going to basically bust your [butt] out there every day, day in, day out? Do you have a routine? Are you going to be consistent?' You know what you're going to get when the person goes in the game. That's what they want."

Hansen (0-1, 6.55 ERA) requested to speak after Tuesday's game, apologizing for the wait when he emerged from the trainer's room with his arm in ice, one section on his shoulder, one on his elbow. As part of his new/old routine (harkening to one Hansen and Delcarmen followed with the big league club), he was not speaking to the press before games.

Although Hansen has taken to the alterations made in spring training -- the refinement of his changeup, the switch from the third base side of the rubber to the first base side -- Griffin has continued to work on mechanical adjustments, including his leg lift, delivery, and tempo. For the 25-year-old Delcarmen, who has been in the minors for a half-dozen years, the word is consistency.

"I've never been in this position where my ERA's been this high," said Delcarmen, whose ERA dropped to 5.94 from 6.32 after Pawtucket's 3-2 win in 14 innings over the Mud Hens last night, in which he struck out two and allowed one hit in one inning. "I always felt like I have success early. Right now I'm working against adversity to bring my ERA down, which I'm trying not to even think about -- just go out there and try to make my pitches. But I just feel like I get it in my head a little bit like, you know, I've got to throw this pitch here."

Both have pitched well in recent outings , each going one inning without allowing a run. But it wasn't the result, it was the realization of their goals. They were pleased, happy to get another taste of success, another indication Boston isn't as far away from Buffalo as it seemed.

"It's there," Griffin said. "It's there and they know it's there. To their credit, they've never lost sight of that. Never, ever. When they got sent down in spring training to this moment right now, they never lost it. They know they have it. They know it's there. They've had success up there.

"It's just the consistency part of it. When that all ties together, it'll come. They'll be off and rolling."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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