After pitch is made, Red Sox sign Embree

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / March 21, 2010

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Before his arrival in the clubhouse at City of Palms Park, Alan Embree asked that his name not be put up on his locker. He wanted to surprise his former teammates, to pull “the old sneak attack,’’ as he put it.

But his appearance, seemingly out of nowhere, had implications far beyond his fellow members of the Red Sox from 2002 to 2005. There was the little matter of the pitchers a few lockers over.

The trio of Joe Nelson, Scott Atchison, and Brian Shouse has been pitching for what is, in all likelihood, a single spot in the bullpen. The Sox need a second lefty, after Hideki Okajima, or someone who has the ability to get out lefthanders, whether that pitcher is lefthanded or not. The competition was heating up as the days dropped away, as the regular season got closer.

But yesterday the competition might have changed with the entrance of Embree.

“I wouldn’t say there’s a concern there,’’ said pitching coach John Farrell, “but there’s the need for a second lefthander, or the desire to have that pitcher that is effective against lefthanded hitters, righthanded or lefthanded.

“The fact that he’s available this late in camp, it’s a great opportunity for us to bring him in and see what he’s still capable of doing.’’

And while there might be a little more pressure for the rest of that reliever group, there is also understanding. They know what the Sox are doing.

“The Red Sox owe it to the people that own the team, Red Sox Nation, everybody, to exhaust every possible avenue,’’ Nelson said. “That’s their job. That’s why they’re good at what they do.

“They’ll bring in a truck driver if he says he can throw 90 miles an hour and throw a splitter.’’

Though it’s difficult to know exactly what Embree will have to offer, being 40 years old, the Sox are willing to take a chance on a familiar face. They signed Embree to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training as a nonroster player. The contract — which will pay him $500,000 if he makes the major leagues, according to a team source — does include an out that would allow Embree to assess his situation as of April 15.

For now, though, the lefthander is just trying to get himself back into the swing of spring training. He arrived in Fort Myers at approximately 10 Friday night, from his home in Bend, Ore., and was at City of Palms Park yesterday morning. There he found himself throwing from the mound to second base in drills, throwing a 33-pitch bullpen session, looking “like he flew all night,’’ as Farrell said.

“We will evaluate tomorrow how he feels,’’ Farrell said. “We want to be cognizant of the time left in camp, but yet at the same time we’ve got to be fair in our assessment of what he might need prior to getting into a game, whether that’s another bullpen, whether that’s going into a minor league game to face hitters first.

“There’s ample time to get him the number of appearances, and particularly for a one-inning reliever — it’s not like a starter.

“He’s been one that’s been blessed with a tremendous arm. He’s never had an issue of throwing strikes. That was evident again here today.’’

Embree spent 2009 with the Rockies, going 2-2 with a 5.84 ERA in 36 outings, though his season ended when a batted ball fractured his right tibia July 10. Though he has made 878 career relief appearances for 10 organizations, he is perhaps most remembered — at least around Boston — for being on the mound for the final out of the 2004 ALCS. Or for being in the bullpen, instead of on the mound, when Pedro Martinez tired in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.

“He wasn’t scared,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “He’d take the ball, obviously, even when he didn’t feel good. I think he just enjoys pitching and I don’t think pitching in a big game certainly got to him. He just liked to pitch.’’

That is why Embree was still attempting to find a place to land this season. His agent sent an e-mail to Sox general manager Theo Epstein, according to Embree, to let him know that the reliever was still throwing. The Sox sent a scout to watch him throw Monday, and they hammered out a deal in the last 48 hours.

So there’s no more basketball or skiing or coaching his son’s baseball team. Embree is working to make the major league squad.

“I told myself I was going to stay in shape until July, August, and if nothing came at that point, I was going to be content with shutting it down,’’ he said. “After I got injured last year, my main goal was to come back and play again.

“I felt really strong at the end of the season coming back from the injury. I felt like I had a lot left in the tank.’’

Though Embree said yesterday he felt he was four or five days away from being in a game, Francona cautioned after a 6-0 win over the Orioles that the Sox were going to take it even slower. Embree, who got his old No. 43 back, is expected to throw another bullpen in a couple of days.

He is hardly assured of a spot. The rest of the reliever candidates have been throwing well, though clearly the Sox aren’t sold on any of them yet.

“It’s been a very interesting 48 hours for me,’’ Embree said. “It’s exciting to have the opportunity to come back and play in Boston. Lot of memories. I can’t think of any place I’d rather be right now. I wouldn’t be back here if I wasn’t excited.

“It’s one of those things where it had to be the right fit if I was going to come back, and it was Boston. Who wouldn’t be excited to come back and play with these guys?’’

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