Okajima, Atchison providing solid relief

Okajima, Atchison providing solid relief

BOSTON -- As the regular season enters its final two weeks, the Red Sox have been getting stellar performances from relievers Hideki Okajima and Scott Atchison.

After missing 20 games with a strained right hamstring, Okajima hasn't allowed any runs over 9 1/3 innings since being activated off the disabled list on Aug. 28. In those 11 appearances, he has scattered six hits, recorded four strikeouts, issued two free passes and lowered his ERA from 5.85 to 4.54.

"Location," manager Terry Francona said of Okajima's improvement. "His fastball, that's always the same. It's 87-90 [mph] every game since he's been here. But when he locates, [it] sets up his offspeed [pitches]. He does some things really well -- like varies his times to the plate, that kind of slide step even when it's a situation where it's not for the runner but it's for the hitter. He's a little sharper than before. You can even see it. It's like his attitude, it's a little bit lighter. He feels good about himself, which is good, because we talked about it for a long time. He's such a difference maker in our bullpen because of his ability to face righties, too."

In 11 innings over seven September appearances, Scott Atchison has given up just one run on seven hits and no walks with eight strikeouts.

"He's been terrific," Francona said. "He was kind of battling for that last spot during Spring Training and he had options, so he was kind of up and down. And we said all along we didn't envision him being that type of pitcher. You need some flexibility in your staff, and he was, unfortunately, the guy. But he throws strikes, he competes. He has the ability to come in the third inning, throw multiple innings. He also has the ability to come in in the ninth and finish off a game. He's done a really good job. [He's] been a nice addition to our bullpen. I think in this day and age you have to find guys like that. Every team's trying to, and he's been a real good find for us."

Atchison, like Okajima, is not a hard thrower, with a fastball averaging around 90 mph, but he gives Francona options in the bullpen.

"I think the general feeling is [if] you have velocity, you create a little room for error," Francona said. "That's probably true for the most part. But you look at [former Sox closer Keith] Foulke's numbers. He was considered a power pitcher. If you look at his numbers, he certainly wasn't, because of the strikeouts per inning, things like that.

"I think out of your bullpen it's nice to have some swing-and-miss [guys]. [Daniel] Bard gives us that and more. But if you have some guys that do different things and complement each other, that's helpful also. If you're short somewhere, it's going to show itself. Over the course of a year, it's hard to have a bullpen that's ... set up like you want to [every day]. It's probably not realistic. But when it's all working, it's nice to have the two lefties, guy that can have swing and miss, guy you can rely on if you run into a problem with your starters, things like that."

Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.