Wagner seems in right setting
Unfamiliar role going quite well
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - As good as Billy Wagner has been so far with the Red Sox - two innings and five strikeouts - it’s hard to imagine just how good he was in his prime. Even Wagner said he isn’t good at comparisons.
Terry Francona, though, was able to recall just what made Wagner so good.
“He could probably hit 98, 99 sometimes, with a breaking ball that would take your skin off,’’ said the Sox manager.
He’s not quite that pitcher anymore - after Tommy John surgery that cost him most of this season - but what he has shown has been more than enough against the Blue Jays and the Rays.
“There’s good things and bad things, I’m sure,’’ Wagner said. “My location is not very good. Breaking ball has been OK. Movement on fastball has been good, but not very locating. Good and bad.’’
“I don’t think I’ve tried to do too much. I think that’s the difference. I think if I’d have come back and went right into the closer, you’d have tried to push it because of the adrenaline. There’s not been much adrenaline pitching in the seventh and eighth. There will be as games get tighter, but I haven’t had that. I’ve not been in any real stress role.
“Even when I’m facing the middle of the lineup or the best hitters, it hasn’t been where I’m like, ‘Well, jeez, if I don’t get this guy we’re going to lose.’ Just do my thing and go pitch to pitch, instead of worry about what could happen.’’
That approach appears to be working, as Wagner has moved from elite closer to setup role.
“It’s like anything else,’’ Wagner said. “You go out there and you throw a zero up in the seventh inning, it’s just like closing out the seventh inning.
“I’ve always understood the importance of the setup man and stuff. What you want to do is you get the ball to the closer with a lead and things usually work out. That’s my job. That’s what I would want happening for me if I was closing and it’s great.
“I had no problem. I think it’s stressless. There’s four or five other guys in there - if I start screwing up, they’re going to bring somebody else in.’’
As a guy coming off major surgery who wasn’t even expected to pitch this season, Wagner knows he hardly has the right to demand anything. So he’s content to pitch the seventh or eighth, hopefully helping to guide the Sox toward a championship.
He doesn’t care how hard he’s throwing - though he did point out that some of the Rays said their gun, which caught him at 94 Tuesday, is slow - as long as he’s getting batters out.
“He’s probably competing before he should be,’’ Francona said. “If you asked the doctors and everything else, I think he’s probably way ahead of schedule. So I think what we get we just need to be grateful for, and try not to abuse it.’’
Asked when he might be ready to pitch, Wakefield said, “Tomorrow.’’
He added, “It’s a matter of testing it out. Gotta push the envelope now. We’re running out of time. So push it as hard as I can go, see what happens. Maybe this weekend in Chicago.’’
Paul Byrd is scheduled to pitch tomorrow and Junichi Tazawa Saturday.
“The pain in my back is gone from the injection,’’ Wakefield said. “My weakness has come back. I think it’s more, medically speaking, there’s more fluid in there now.’’