The 'Penn is mightier: Former Sox reliever Melancon an all-star

Jan-Christian Sorensen
Contributing Writer

Stick this in the “One That Got Away” file.

Former Red Sox pitcher Mark Melancon, who pitched out of the bullpen for Boston in 2012 before being traded to Pittsburgh last December, was named to the National League All-Star team Sunday as an injury replacement for Pirates hurler Jeff Locke.

While Melancon has gone 12-8 with a 3.35 ERA over his five years in the majors, he’s been lights-out for Pittsburgh since shipping out of Boston. In 44 innings this season the 6-2, 215-lb setup man is 2-1 with a 0.81 ERA, two saves and 25 holds — the most in the majors among relievers with at least 40 innings pitched. He boasts a stingy rate of 0.81 walks per nine innings while his strikeout-to-walk ratio is second-best in all of baseball at 11.50.

Not bad for a guy who was bounced around from the Yankees to the Astros to the Red Sox over a three-year period.

For those who don't recall, his career with the Sox didn’t get off to a stellar start. In his first four appearances in 2012 Melancon was 0-2 with a 49.50 ERA (!) after surrendering 11 runs and five homers in two innings of work.

However, after he was demoted to Pawtucket he received some advice from former Astros pitching coach Brad Arnsberg that helped him to turn his season around. When he returned to the big leagues with Boston, Melancon had a 4.19 ERA in his last 37 appearances — including a stretch where he put up a 0.55 ERA with 13 strikeouts and two walks in 16.1 innings.

"Mechanical was just a little bit of it," Melancon told WEEI's Alex Speier. "It was a mentality and an attitude I had to change. The approach when I went into the game, I almost picture it as I was taking a starter mentality into a relieving situation. That's just something that you're always tinkering with, like your curveball. The game is so finicky when you get to such a high level that you're always trying to manipulate things to be that much better. Every little bit makes a big difference. I think my approach going into the game changed, and it helped me a lot. You can't notice it when I'm pitching now from when I was in Boston, but there is a difference within myself."

Melancon’s addition to the All-Star team gives Pittsburgh five all-stars (Melancon, 3B Pedro Alvarez, CF Andrew McCutchen, P Jason Grilli and Locke) for the first time since 1972, when Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente, Steve Blass, Al Oliver and Manny Sanguillen represented the defending World Series champs in Atlanta.

“It’s pretty cool to be considered among the upper echelon of major league baseball players,” said Melancon, who made the six-hour drive from Pennsylvania to New York late Sunday in a minivan with his parents, wife and two-year-old daughter. “It’s really humbling. It’s something you always hope will happen at some point in your career and I’m really excited about it.”

By the way, Red Sox Nation, here’s some salt in the wound: the Sox traded Melancon, pitcher Stolmy Pimentel and infielders Jerry Sands and Ivan DeJesus, Jr. to the Pirates for closer Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt. While Holt has seen some time at third with Will Middlebrooks in the minors and Jose Iglesias covering short for an ailing Stephen Drew, Hanrahan pitched in only nine games for the Red Sox in 2013 and posted an ERA of 9.82 before undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery. 

Twitter: @jan_doh