ST. PETERSBURG -- When a team falls out of contention for a postseason berth, storylines can be lost. With the Red Sox, there might be none bigger than the emergence of Junichi Tazawa.
Not only is Tazawa throwing the ball harder than he was before Tommy John surgery -- or perhaps at any other point in his career -- but he is putting up the numbers of an elite setup man.
The righty has pitched in 30 games for the Red Sox this season, posting a 1.43 ERA over 37 2/3 innings.
"The confidence is definitely there, along with some good nerves that keep me stable," said Tazawa. "I focus on each pitch, each at-bat, and the results have been good, which has led to my confidence."
Heading into 2013, Tazawa looks like someone who will be primed to pitch in high-leverage situations for the Red Sox, something he has done consistently of late.
"I don't really see the seventh or eighth inning as my role; I see my role to be prepared whenever I'm called upon," Tazawa said. "I don't worry about when I'm throwing. I'm more worried about just being prepared whenever it is."
Tazawa initially was on the developmental path as a starter, but he has pitched exclusively in relief this season.
"Before I had Tommy John, my elbow used to just swell up a little bit, and I wasn't able to throw the way I wanted to," said Tazawa. "I wasn't hitting the velocity I knew I was capable of. Right now, I think I'm finally starting to pitch the way I want to, reach the velocity I want to and the results have been there."
He hasn't ruled out giving starting another try, should the Red Sox give him that opportunity.
"I haven't pitched up to 100 pitches since my surgery, so I can't really say," Tazawa said. "If I'm given the opportunity to have a pitch count that high, I'd like to give it a try. The more important thing is I just came back and I'm still proving myself right now. It's just focusing on the task I'm given at the moment and make sure I produce the results that the team is expecting from me."