There is talk of -- even an expectation that -- the Red Sox will reach into their minor league system this summer seeking salve for a wounded and wobbling bullpen. The pitching talent currently cresting in the minors: Triple A Pawtucket righthanders Jon Papelbon and Manny Delcarmen, and Portland lefthander Jon Lester.
But what about Cla Meredith?
''They don't need to be experimenting now," Meredith said last week. ''I'm cool down here."
Meredith has settled into the PawSox' bullpen, frequently in the closer's role, since his brief debut with the Sox in early May, when his first -- and lasting -- impression was a grand slam by Seattle's Richie Sexson.
Meredith, to that point, had gone from college to the big leagues in less than a year, allowing all of four runs in 47 minor league innings, for a 0.77 ERA. With the PawSox, he's 1-4 with a 5.20 ERA in 27 2/3 innings.
''It's good to be in a place and be comfortable," the 22-year-old Meredith said before Sunday's PawSox game in Syracuse, N.Y. ''I'm just enjoying my season. It's kind of, this is reality. The big leagues wasn't really reality. That was just a treat."
In the past, he said, his talent carried him, through each level of the low- and mid-minors. But now he's realized he can't pitch on talent alone.
''And I'm kind of glad," he said. ''I went through the motions at all the other levels. Just flying through and having success you don't really learn anything. I feel I belong here, but I'm young, and I have some learning to do, and I understand that."
When he joined the Red Sox in May, Meredith was throwing 90 percent sinking fastballs, some sliders, and the occasional changeup.
''Now, I'm throwing 60 percent fastballs, 40 percent offspeed pitches," he said. ''At times, if I hadn't had that slider, I would have been dead meat. I got in a situation in Richmond, my hometown, where there were a couple hits, an error, I was looking at bases loaded, one out, and if it wasn't for the fact that I had that slider, they probably would have been sitting dead red."
As Sexson was.
Meredith says he wasn't scarred by that moment. More than anything, he's upset with the result.
''That was probably one of the best pitches I made up there, outside corner," he said. ''If you look at me, I actually take two or three steps toward the dugout and I look up and said, 'Oh [expletive].'
''But I'm very realistic. Mentally, I was probably in over my head a little bit. I'm not ready for it right now. When I get up there again, I want to have success."
If you heard Meredith is currently pitching for Single A Wilmington, you heard correct. But that's only because he is in a wedding in that area this weekend, and the Sox took advantage of the situation to keep him active. He'll rejoin the PawSox by Monday.
No out call
Despite an out clause in his contract that kicked in June 15, allowing him to sign a more lucrative deal with a team in Japan, Pawtucket slugger Roberto Petagine plans to stay put.
''It came, and it went," Petagine said of the deadline. ''I'm here for the year. I've wanted to be in the big leagues. That's what's always in my mind, my goal, to play in the major leagues."
Petagine said his agent was contacted by teams in Japan, but he let it be known that he isn't interested. He declined those overtures knowing there's no surplus of playing time at first base in Boston, but hoping his blend of power and batting average forces the big league team to use him in some capacity.
A lefthanded hitter, Petagine clocked his 16th homer Saturday, a majestic shot to left-center in Syracuse with a swing that looks like it would fit nicely in Fenway. He knocked in his 45th, 46th, and 47th runs with the homer, while upping his average to .328.
Most impressive, to his teammates, has been Petagine's opposite-field power.
''You say impressive, I say amazing," said PawSox catcher Kelly Shoppach. ''I've got some juice, but the way he can hit the ball to left field is amazing. He can cover all of the field."
Does Petagine feel he should be in the big leagues?
''Well, the numbers say that," he said.
Petagine said he's not thinking beyond this season, but with Kevin Millar and John Olerud due to become free agents, there could be a spot for Petagine next season in Boston, especially in a platoon situation. He annihilates righthanded pitching.
''Roberto is obviously proving that he deserves serious major league consideration," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. ''Unfortunately for him, right now we're full at that spot. We're not ignoring what he's doing. We think he's an important part of the organization, and we think he's going to be a major league player someday."
But the clock's ticking. Petagine is 34, with a history of knee surgeries.
Stopping at nothing
Lester earned Eastern League Player of the Week honors last week for pitching seven shutout innings, fanning 12, walking none, and conceding only five hits. The honor should be coming his way once again. Monday night he pitched a one-hit shutout in a seven-inning game, allowing a hit and a walk in the second inning before setting down the final 17 batters he faced. His 13 Ks tied a Sea Dogs record previously owned by A.J. Burnett, though Burnett established that mark in a nine-inning game. Lester's fastball is generally at 91-92 miles per hour, though he can pump that up when the situation dictates it. He complements that with a cutter, curveball, and changeup. ''He's got a chance to be a very, very good major league pitcher," said Epstein, who did not rule out the possibility that Lester will wear a Red Sox uniform this season. ''He's 21 years old, he's still developing. He's got a good body, a good head." . . . Had he not been promoted to Pawtucket, Papelbon would have started Tuesday night's Eastern League All-Star Game at Hadlock Field in Portland . . . Curt Schilling's showing in Syracuse last weekend marked the first appearance of note by a Sox player in Syracuse since Manny Ramirez in June 2002. Ramirez, on a rehab stint, missed the team bus that left Pawtucket for Syracuse, flew there, walked into the minor league clubhouse, and asked, ''What, no sushi?" There was no sushi Saturday, either, but Schilling did cater a postgame meal. His restaurant choice? Hooters . . . Speaking of food, one thing Meredith does miss is the major league postgame spread. Following one game with Boston, he acknowledged, he stuck around the clubhouse and spent an hour by himself in the players' lounge eating crab legs after everyone else had gone home . . . Perhaps the funniest moment during Schilling's rehab stint came Saturday night, when he pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning in a 12-3 PawSox win. One reporter decided to ask Schilling the following: ''Curt, a 12-3 blowout, other than maybe a pure physical workout, I'm wondering what you get mentally from a game like this where all you've got to do is show up." Schilling: ''Really?" . . . Hanley Ramirez electrified the home crowd during the Eastern League All-Star Game when he stole second and third, and scored on a passed ball on three consecutive pitches.