BOSTON – Over most of the past two seasons, Junichi Tazawa has been one of the Red Sox most reliable relievers. He has also been one of the most called-upon relievers.
Including last year’s postseason, he has pitched 127 1/3 innings over 142 games since the start of the 2013 season. He has appeared in 10 of the Sox’ 16 games this month, leading the staff with 58 appearances, and is on pace to appear in 76 games this season, more than his career-high 71 of last season.
Perhaps that usage is beginning to show effects.
After appearing in three straight games last week, he allowed two of three inherited runners to score Friday night in the 10th inning against the Astros, and has allowed 10 of 23 inherited runners overall to score this season.
While 47 of his 58 appearances this season have been scoreless, he has allowed runs in four of his 10 appearances this month. In that span he has given up a total of five runs, three earned, on 10 hits, one home run, five walks, and 11 strikeouts over 9 2/3 innings, for a 2.79 ERA, going 1-1 with a blown save. In his last 13 appearances, spanning 12 1/3 innings, he has allowed nine runs, seven earned, for a 5.11 ERA, going 1-2 with two blown saves.
He gave up two runs in Monday’s 4-2 loss to the Angels, but both were unearned, scoring on two of his own errors on one play.
Tazawa entered in the eighth inning Monday night, with the Angels leading, 2-1. He allowed the first two batters to reach base – No. 9 hitter Chris Iannetta on an 11-pitch walk and Kole Calhoun with a base hit. He struck out Mike Trout before issuing an intentional walk to Albert Pujols.
Tazawa got a first-pitch tailor-made comebacker from Howie Kendrick for what appeared to be a potential double play to get out of the jam. Instead, he committed two errors on the play — one fielding, one on the throw to catcher Christian Vazquez at the plate – as two runs scored, putting the Angels ahead, 4-1.
His miscues were highlighted when the Sox scored what could have been the tying run in the ninth.
Tazawa said fatigue is not an issue.
“I don’t feel different physically compared to last year,” he said through translator C.J. Matsumoto. “It’s probably more mental. I’ve been giving up unlucky hits here and there. But I still appreciate the team using me in a very important role. So, I’ll try to do my best.”
Tazawa said he got caught in-between in Monday’s game, trying to decide whether to field the ball with a backhand or straight on. That miscue caused him to rush the throw to the plate, throwing wildly.
Perhaps that was part of the mental issues he mentioned.
“I try not to have it affect my pitching negatively,” he said. “I think if I’m aggressive against the hitters, those kind of pitch will be caught. So, I just want to be more aggressive and attack the strike zone.”
Perhaps it’s the familiarity opponents now have with him, learning to be more aggressive.
“I understand they’re trying to do that,” he said. “But I’m counteracting that with my sliders, my curveballs. I think that’s something that I have to adapt to. But I think I have the weapons.”