Time to impress is short

Relievers await word from Sox

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / April 1, 2010

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SARASOTA, Fla. — Two of them will be introduced to the crowd at Fenway Park Sunday night as new members of the Red Sox. The other two will look for an apartment in Pawtucket or decide where their journey through baseball will lead them next.

There are two spots open in the bullpen and four players competing for them. But when Scott Atchison, Alan Embree, Joe Nelson, and Scott Schoeneweis

gather at City of Palms Park every morning and dress at adjoining lockers, the subject never comes up.

“Everything but,’’ said Nelson, a 35-year-old righthander. “That’s just the way it is with this kind of thing. It’s actually pretty friendly.’’

The Red Sox have only three more exhibition games remaining after beating the Orioles, 14-6, yesterday. For the quartet of veteran relievers, there may be one chance left to make an impression. By the time the team flies to Washington tomorrow night, the roster will be picked.

“Everybody is anxious,’’ Atchison said. “But at this point, it’s almost out of your control. They probably know what they want to do and all you can do is wait and see what happens.’’

Among them, the four have played for 19 of the 30 organizations in baseball, pitching in nearly 1,700 games.

“We’ve all been through this before,’’ Embree said. “But that doesn’t make it easier. Everybody wants to be there for the first game.’’

Atchison does a crossword puzzle every morning, alternating clues with bites of his breakfast. In a clubhouse full of big personalities, it’s easy not to notice him.

The 34-year-old righthander spent the last two seasons in Japan, pitching well and making a good salary. But he signed as a free agent with the Red Sox in December, desirous to return to the majors and be closer to the medical care needed by his daughter, Callie. The 2-year-old has a rare genetic condition requiring physical therapy for her arms.

Atchison has impressed the Red Sox, allowing two earned runs on nine hits and two walks in spring training. He throws a cut fastball for strikes and releases the ball close to his ear, making it difficult to pick up.

“We were hoping we would see what we saw,’’ said manager Terry Francona. “We thought we were getting a pretty good pitcher.’’

Atchison still has minor league options remaining, meaning the Sox can stash him in Pawtucket. But to hear Francona talk, he may have already earned his spot.

“Scott has done everything he could do,’’ the manager said. “He has really pitched well.’’

The other spot is harder to predict. The Sox would prefer a second lefthander to complement Hideki Okajima. But Embree, signed as a free agent March 20, has pitched three times and allowed 10 earned runs on eight hits and three walks over 2 1/3 innings and struck out only one.

His latest setback came yesterday. Embree entered in the ninth inning and allowed four runs on four hits. Two of the hits were soft but the final one was a long home run by Ty Wigginton.

Schoeneweis was a little better in the eighth, giving up one run as Wigginton doubled and scored on a sacrifice fly.

“I know Alan left a ball up that went a long way,’’ said Francona. “But I actually thought both of them looked more comfortable, worked down in the zone. Schoeneweis threw some good breaking balls.’’

Schoeneweis was signed last Friday after being released by the Brewers. Because he has been pitching all spring training, Schoeneweis could have the edge on Embree. Both Embree and Schoeneweis can opt out of their contracts and become free agents on April 15 if they are not in the majors.

Nelson has pitched well all spring, posting a 3.72 ERA over 11 appearances and striking out 12 in 9 2/3 innings. But he does not have an out in his contract until June. Nelson made the trip to Sarasota yesterday but did not pitch. He is scheduled to work today.

Francona was a member of six organizations during his 10 years as a player and was released twice. He knows the pressure of trying to make a team in spring training and is determined to give everybody a fair chance.

“I know these guys, the anxiety builds up,’’ he said. “If you know what you think a guy is, and then he goes out and throws a bad inning, I don’t know that you would penalize him. You try and make good decisions.’’

Being on the roster Sunday guarantees nothing. Boof Bonser, a reliever the Sox like, will start the season on the disabled list and could return during the second week. Once Daisuke Matsuzaka is ready to pitch, more changes will come to the pitching staff.

Those are problems for another day. For now, the four veterans wait to see who gets called into Francona’s office.

“We all can’t make it,’’ Atchison said. “That’s all we really know.’’

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