Saito settles in for stellar Red Sox 'pen

Saito settles in for stellar Red Sox 'pen

BOSTON -- In the case of Takashi Saito, the term "role reversal" might be an understatement.

The Japanese reliever brought 81 career Major League saves with him to the Red Sox's bullpen this season, but, unlike in his three-year stint with the Dodgers, closing would not be an item on his to-do list in Boston.

With four-time All-Star Jonathan Papelbon holding down the ninth-inning responsibilities, Saito's place in the Sox's relief corps was very much up in the air heading into 2009.

Would he be Papelbon's primary setup man? Perhaps a fill-in stopper on days Boston's ace closer was unavailable?

Forty-five appearances into the season, Saito (3-3, two saves, 2.80 ERA) is just another stable option in arguably baseball's best bullpen. He doesn't have a particular inning to call his own, but the 39-year-old hasn't complained one bit.

"When he started the season out, it was hard to find a defined role for him," manager Terry Francona said. "The role he was pitching in, he was probably deserving of a little more. He picked up some innings that weren't when the game was in balance. But rather than complain, he just did it.

"Now that things have progressed, and we're getting into more defined roles, he's pitching a lot more innings of consequence. He knows he's a valuable member of our bullpen, and because of that, I think you see him walking around with a littler more confidence. He wanted to carry his load, and he's done a good job of that."

Saito has done a fine job of late, reeling off seven consecutive scoreless outings dating back to Aug. 6. But shutout innings aren't the only contribution he's made to the Red Sox.

"He's a good teammate," Francona said. "Our guys love him. He's about as professional as you can get."

Pitching matchup
BOS: RHP Junichi Tazawa (2-2, 3.57 ERA)
Tazawa earned his second career Major League victory last Saturday in impressive fashion, scattering eight hits over a season-high six shutout frames against the Yankees at Fenway Park. The 23-year-old right-hander, who walked two and struck out two in the 99-pitch outing, became the first Red Sox pitcher since 1988 to log six or more scoreless innings while allowing at least one hit in every frame. He has never faced the White Sox.

CWS: LHP John Danks (11-8, 3.85 ERA)
Danks made a somewhat miraculous recovery last Saturday given his early control issues against the Orioles. The southpaw walked five batters through 2 1/3 innings, but pulled himself together to avoid an early exit. Danks threw 60 pitches in the first three frames, but tossed just 26 more over the next three innings, retiring 10 straight batters at one point. He lasted 6 1/3 frames, allowing one run on three hits with six walks and three strikeouts. Lifetime against the Red Sox, Danks is 0-3 with a 6.06 ERA in three starts.

Tidbits
Right-hander Enrique Gonzalez was designated for assignment before Wednesday's game to make room for knuckleballer Tim Wakefield's activation from the disabled list. ... Two days removed from tossing three scoreless innings in a Gulf Coast League appearance, right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka (mild shoulder strain) threw a side session at Fenway Park on Wednesday afternoon. He is scheduled to start for Double-A Portland on Saturday. ... The Red Sox have hit 45 home runs in August, their most in that month since belting 46 in August 2003. ... Boston has tallied multiple long balls in 10 of its past 12 contests.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• NESN, MLBN

On radio
• WEEI 850, SBN 1150 (Español)

Up next
• Friday: Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 14-5, 3.65) vs. Blue Jays (Scott Richmond, 6-7, 4.09), 7:10 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Red Sox (Clay Buchholz, 2-3, 5.02) vs. Blue Jays (Ricky Romero, 11-5, 3.91), 7:10 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Red Sox (Jon Lester, 10-7, 3.60) vs. Blue Jays (Roy Halladay, 13-7, 3.03), 1:35 p.m. ET

John Barone is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.