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'Pen is mightier

Posted by Maureen Mullen January 29, 2009 05:57 AM

Having grown up in Boston, Manny Delcarmen knows how important the off-season is to Red Sox fans. Now, as a regular fixture in the bullpen, he continues to monitor the team’s winter moves.

He’s happy with the signings of Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia to multiyear contracts and of closer Jonathan Papelbon to a one-year deal.

“It’s always good to get guys and lock them down for a couple of years, especially guys like Pedroia and Youkilis, who did what they did last year,” said Delcarmen. “And what Pap’s been doing for the last few years is unbelievable. I called Pap and I was like, ‘I’m never paying for lunch ever again.’ And he was like, ‘All right, I’ll take you to Taco Bell.’”

The pride of Hyde Park is also happy with the added bullpen depth.

“It seemed like we signed about 100 relievers,” Delcarmen said. “I think it’s always good to have extra arms in case something happens.”

He is not concerned about the moves made by the Yankees, who spent more than $423 million to acquire pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira.

“Oh, they spent a lot of money before and it hasn’t paid off for them, but we’ll see what happens,” he said. “I mean, it’s baseball — you never know what can happen. Obviously, they’re trying to make their team better. They got Teixeira, and I know we can get to Sabathia. We’ve done it before.”

The Sox still have one move to make. Who will Delcarmen and the rest of the staff be throwing to this season? Will it be free agent Jason Varitek or one of the catchers currently on the 40-man roster — Josh Bard, George Kottaras, Dusty Brown, or Mark Wagner?

“I’m hoping we sign ’Tek,” Delcarmen said. “You know how he is with the pitching staff. And all the stuff about his divorce and stuff last year, I think it affected him a little bit. And I think, honestly, I feel like whatever he’s done, if he hits just a little bit better than he did last year, I think it’s a plus to have him. He’s definitely the backbone of this team, and I want him to stay here.”

Delcarmen turns 27 on Feb. 16, the date position players are scheduled to report to spring training. He’s looking forward to his first camp as an established member of the staff, without concerns that the Pawtucket-Boston shuttle is waiting for him.

“I think [manager Terry Francona] did a good job not only with me, but with like all the young guys,” Delcarmen said. “He gave me a little taste in ’07 of coming in in situations, runners on and trying to get the ball to [Papelbon] pretty much. And in ’08 not being sent up and down, you know you’re not going back down, so you kind of just work to stay up there. I know my first half of the season was kind of up and down, up and down, kind of shaky last year. But I had a really good second half.”

Last season, Delcarmen — who led AL pitchers (minimum 50 innings) with the fastest average fastball at 95.5 mph, according to the Bill James Handbook — saw stark differences in his season splits. Overall, he compiled a record of 1-2, with two saves, a 3.27 ERA, 18 holds, and three blown saves.

In 30 games before the All-Star break, Delcarmen’s ERA was a robust 4.54, with a record of 0-2. In the second half, his ERA fell to 1.82, and he went 1-0 with two saves.

His difficulties included back-to-back April outings when he allowed five inherited runners to score, two on a double by Frank Thomas in Toronto, and three on a first-pitch grand slam to Thomas two days later.

“Frank Thomas killed my first half of the season,” Delcarmen said. “But I’ve never seen a guy hurt me that bad and then he was out of a job in like a week or two days. I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ But I got him the year before. He got me last year. So we’ll see what happens if he’s playing this year.”

Delcarmen, who plans to build an indoor baseball facility and has been touring sites in the city this winter, began throwing about three weeks ago. He’s a little behind schedule after vacationing in Las Vegas and Aruba but will head south Monday, ahead of the team’s Feb. 12 reporting date.

“I’ve been … getting ready to get back into baseball,” he said. “Because after a while baseball starts itching at me and I know it’s right around the corner.”

Maureen Mullen covers the Red Sox for OT and can be reached at mmullen@globe.com

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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
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