PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Was Mark Melancon's disastrous start due to bad pitch location or a lack of confidence?
One of Boston GM Ben Cherington's biggest offseason acquisitions, Melancon surrendered 11 earned runs (49.50 ERA) on 10 hits, including five home runs, in his first four outings this season.
Boston had seen enough.
Melancon, who saved 20 games with a 2.78 ERA in 71 relief appearances for the Houston Astros last season, was demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket to figure out what was wrong.
"My mind, my attitude, my aggressiveness, those are things that needed to change," Melancon said, sitting in the home dugout at Pawtucket's McCoy Stadium on Wednesday. "More my aggressiveness than anything."
Mind? Attitude? Sounds like there might be a confidence issue, raising the obvious question: Is Melancon tough enough mentally to pitch in Boston.
Well, New York Daily News columnist Bill Madden recently wrote, "How did Cherington not know what the Yankees, who originally signed Melancon, told everyone who ever asked about him — that the kid had good stuff but a very delicate psyche not fit for pressure cooker environments like the AL East?"
The Eagle-Tribune asked Melancon about that.
"I don't see that at all," Melancon replied, adding he would need the Yankees to clarify why they thought that way about him.
Melancon, who has been brilliant for Pawtucket, isn't the only Sox reliever to start this season poorly.
Entering Thursday's game, Red Sox relievers had combined for a 7.19 ERA in 51 1/3 innings and opposing hitters were batting .318 against them.
With that said, Melancon obviously still is an important piece to this team. The Red Sox need him to pitch like the setup man they thought they were acquiring last December for shortstop Jed Lowrie and pitcher Kyle Weiland.
Cherington and the Red Sox obviously believed Melancon would be a capable setup man, allowing Daniel Bard to make the transition to the starting rotation without downgrading the bullpen.
"I feel like I have an extremely important role," Melancon said. "And I think I can do anything in the bullpen."
Melancon said calling his poor start a confidence problem is inaccurate.
"I wasn't throwing inside," Melancon said. "Hitters weren't respecting me as a pitcher. And so when they feel comfortable at the plate, you can be throwing 105 (mph), and they're still going to hit it because they're good enough to do that. So it's not like my confidence was down. I know who I am. I haven't lost perspective on what I can do."
Melancon struggled with the feel for his curveball in his first four appearances.
"I need to use my changeup more," he said. "My curveball definitely needed to be fine-tuned."
Melancon has talked with Red Sox team psychologist Bob Tewksbury, who helped Boston starter Clay Buchholz when he had his confidence issues.
"We had a good rapport in spring training," Melancon said about Tewksbury. "So we've kept in touch since day one."
Melancon allowed seven runs, six earned, on 12 hits and two walks in 9 2/3 innings in spring training.
"I wish I could have caught what I was doing wrong out there before it got to this point," Melancon said. "And that's my fault. I am my own best pitching coach so I need to evaluate myself better."
Throughout his career, Melancon has evaluated his delivery and approach by watching video of his outings.
"I think there's a point where it (video) can be too much," he said. "But it's definitely a good tool to use. Anyone who says they don't use it at all, I think that's a little foolish because it's there to help you but not get in your way at the same time."
Melancon said his demotion to Pawtucket was a good thing. He feels he is back to his normal self. Through Friday, Melancon had made four appearances for Pawtucket, pitching 4 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing four hits, striking out eight batters, walking none and earning one save.
"When you don't feel like you physically held up your end of the bargain, it's really frustrating because I want to so bad," Melancon said. "But sometimes it just doesn't work out. And I understand on occasion that's going to happen. But when it happens a couple of times in a row, that's really frustrating."
Boston is a place where players have to have a short-term memory and pitchers can't get frustrated when they pitch poorly a few games in a row. Pitchers have to refocus and forget about it by the time they return to the ballpark the next day.
Jonathan Papelbon is great at doing that. That is what made him so successful here longterm.
It remains to be seen whether Melancon has the ability to do it here in the powerful AL East.
To most, the division is much more intense than the NL Central, although Melancon doesn't think so.
"Good pitching beats good hitting," Melancon said. "If you throw down and away strikes, and locate in and out and back and forth I think it's just a rhythmic game that you play against the hitter. If you do a good enough job with that, I don't care who it is, I think you're going to get good results as a pitcher."
Tale of Two Cities
Note: Stats are through Friday