BOSTON -- With a one-run lead and the tying run at second in the seventh inning of Tuesday night’s game, Red Sox manager John Farrell turned to right-hander Junichi Tazawa to face the top of the Tampa Bay Rays lineup.
Tazawa didn’t disappoint.
The 27-year-old was able to get out of the inning by blowing away Desmond Jennings on three 93 mph fastballs before returning for a dominant eighth inning that saw the Japanese reliever strike out Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia was impressed.
“That’s the biggest inning of the game right there,” Saltalamacchia said. “You’re going through the meat of their lineup, guys have been swinging the bat, a couple of guys [Longoria and rookie Wil Myers] had hit homers. I put my glove down and away, and he hit it right on the spot.”
It was an important outing for Tazawa, who was able to get through an inning without allowing a baserunner for the first time since July 3. Tazawa credited advice from his teammates, mainly countryman Koji Uehara, for his success.
“It’s my first season that I’ve pitched from the beginning and there was a lot of games that I pitched,” Tazawa said. “I was sort of mentally worn down and Koji and all the others gave me some advice and it worked wonders for me.”
The All-Star break also helped as Tazawa used the time to relax and meet Uehara for dinner on a couple of occasions. The Red Sox closer showed Tazawa how he gripped his splitter and positioned his arm, advice that Tazawa said he wasn’t able to put into use until Tuesday.
Tazawa said Uehara has given him advice before “but in the past I was a little bit mentally worn down,” he said. “I wasn’t able to apply that to practical purposes, but today I was able to do that.”
Heading into the All-Star break, Tazawa had allowed four runs in his last six appearances, a span that saw his ERA rise above 3.00 for the first time since May 11. Manager John Farrell believes that a change in the right-hander’s mental approach has been the key for Tazawa to get back on track.
“It’s just been more with an aggressive attack mode rather than trying to be a little bit too fine,” Farrell said. “I think he got in a little bit of a bad habit to be a little bit tentative. Over the past two or three outings, it’s been more of just trust your stuff and be aggressive and we’re seeing the velocity come back.”
Despite the change of pace, Tazawa insists that confidence has not been an issue at any point this season. In a situation like the one he was thrown into Tuesday night, the right-hander said he appreciated the opportunity to show what he’s made of.
“I’m just gratified that the manager has been using me in that kind of position,” he said.