Wagner getting used to pitching schedule

Wagner getting used to pitching schedule

ST. PETERSBURG -- The every other day schedule is something that Billy Wagner is still getting used to, but it's not one that takes any of his joy away.

"I've never been in a bullpen that has three or four guys that throw harder than I do and probably better than I do," Wagner said. "There's not too many opportunities you get that. It's not like it's the worst thing in the world."

The way the lefty reliever looks at it, he was never even supposed to pitch this season after undergoing ligament transfer surgery -- i.e. Tommy John -- in his elbow last September.

When the Red Sox face off against the Rays in Thursday's rubber match of this three-game series, Wagner will be ready for use out of the bullpen.

If early indications mean anything, Wagner is well on his way to playing a significant role for the Red Sox down the stretch, even if it's on a part-time basis.

In his first two outings for Boston, he has gone two innings, allowing no hits and one walk while striking out five. This, after two scoreless outings for the Mets.

"I think I'm just having fun," said Wagner. "I'm enjoying what I'm brought over here to do. I have everything in the world to gain. I don't need to worry about anything. I just go out there and let the big dog hunt and if it's there, good, if it's not, there's about four other guys down there that will come in there and pick me up."

The 38-year-old Wagner has been pleasantly surprised with the early returns following such a significant surgery.

"I'm not allowed to take anything for granted," Wagner said. "I wasn't expected to pitch this year. I go out there and after 15 years, I think I maybe look back and enjoy maybe what I'm doing and being able to pitch and be around great guys and trying to win a championship and I don't get caught up in what somebody says about my velocity not being what it used to be, or this, that, and the other. I couldn't care less. I've been through that. For me, it's about winning."

Has anything surprised Wagner about his stuff following surgery?

"I think the breaking ball has been the surprising thing because that's the first thing they told me wouldn't be back," Wagner said. "It wouldn't be consistent. But it seems to be consistent and the fastball's got life."

Red Sox manager Terry Francona thinks it's unfair to compare Wagner to what he once was. He's just happy to have another quality lefty in his bullpen.

"He was one of the elite. He would probably hit 98, 99 sometimes with a breaking ball that would take your skin off," Francona said. "He's not that far removed from surgery. He's probably competing before he should be. If you ask the doctors and everything else, I think he's probably way ahead of schedule. I think with what we get, we just need to be grateful for and not try to abuse it."

Pitching matchup
BOS: RHP Clay Buchholz (3-3, 4.38 ERA)
The wiry right-hander is coming off one of the best starts of his career, a 3-2 win over the Blue Jays. Buchholz went 8 1/3 innings, giving up three hits and one run, walking two and striking out nine. This will be Buchholz's second career start at Tropicana Field. Last year, he pitched a complete-game loss here, giving up three hits and two runs over eight innings. Buchholz has made four indoor starts in his career, going 1-3 with a 5.09 ERA.

TB: LHP David Price (7-6, 4.63 ERA)
Price gave the Rays a quality start and then some on Saturday in Detroit, allowing one earned run in 7 1/3 innings to pick up his seventh win of the season and his first Major League road win. Price has live stuff in most of his outings. Fastball command has been his biggest improvement over the course of the past month. As a result, the left-hander has been getting ahead in the count more often and walking fewer hitters. Price is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in one career start against the Red Sox; he is 6-2 with a 2.92 ERA in 10 career appearances (nine starts) at Tropicana Field.

Tidbits
The Red Sox pitchers have 57 strikeouts over the past five games. ... Jacoby Ellsbury has 56 steals, leading Rays left fielder Carl Crawford by one for the league lead. ... David Ortiz has 100 RBIs lifetime against the Rays, the fifth most of any player. ... Kevin Youkilis has worn out Tampa Bay's pitching staff, hitting .463 with eight doubles, three homers and 10 RBIs.

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

On television
• NESN

On radio
• WEEI 850, SBN 1150 (Español)

Up next
• Friday: Red Sox (Paul Byrd, 1-0, 0.00) at White Sox (Freddy Garcia, 0-2, 5.94), 8:11 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Red Sox (Junichi Tazawa, 2-3, 6.65) at White Sox (Gavin Floyd, 10-9, 3.97), 4:05 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Red Sox (Jon Lester, 11-7, 3.58) at White Sox (John Danks, 12-8, 3.82), 2:05 p.m. ET

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.