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April 26, 2012 at 3:02 PM

PawSox Notebook: Melancon and Tazawa swap spots

Mark Melancon was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket after struggling through four big league relief appearances and posting a 49.50 ERA. Junichi Tazawa, who is coming back for his first full season since having Tommy John surgery at the beginning of the 2010 season, was called up in his stead.

“It happens to a lot of people where guys just get off to rough starts and confidence is so much a part of what we do with hitters and pitchers, and that’s a tough thing to shake,” Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler said on Melancon. “He just got off to a tough start and he needs to get going and get some positive things to happen.”

“I’m going to talk to him and see what he feels has been going on and what he thinks he needs to work on so I can get his perspective before I try to do anything,” catcher Ryan Lavarnway said. “He’s here to get his confidence back up, and I’m going to do what I can to help that.”

In 7.0 innings with Pawtucket this season, Tazawa did not give up any runs, struck out nine batters, walked two, and gave up five hits.

“[Tazawa] keeps a very high level of focus, and he’s got four pitches that he can throw for strikes,” Lavarnway said. “I think that’s what makes him dangerous is that when [he] can control that many pitches and throw them where [he wants], it really keeps the hitter off balance.

“If [he goes] up and can throw all those pitches for strikes and keep it down in the zone, I think he will be successful.”

Since joining the big league club last week, Tazawa has thrown 3.0 scoreless innings, giving up only one hit. Since joining Pawtucket, Melancon has thrown 3.1 innings, giving up three hits, no runs, and striking out six.

Alex Hassan rebounds from early woes

After starting off his season 0 for 17, Alex Hassan has batted .294 with 10 hits, 9 RBI, and an OBP of .415 since that stretch.

“I feel like I had some good at-bats [at the beginning of the season] and hit some balls hard, but they just didn’t fall,” said Hassan at the tail-end of his slow start. “It’s still early. I haven’t had that many at-bats where it’s really time to press the panic button.”

Hassan saw a lot of success in Double-A Portland in 2011, where he batted .291 with 75 hits and 64 RBI and posted an OBP of .404.

On his adjustment to Triple-A, Hassan said, “At the end of the day it’s the same game. The pitchers still need to throw strikes, and if they throw it over the plate, I need to make something happen. I don’t think it’s necessarily that the level of competition is much greater. It’s just a matter of being successful and making something happen when they throw strikes.”

Pedro Ciriaco makes his return

After a fantastic spring training with the big league club, Pedro Ciriaco, who was signed as a minor league free agent in the offseason, spent time on the seven-day DL with an oblique injury. A stint during which the Red Sox called up fellow utilityman Nate Spears. Had he not been hurt, it’s possible Ciriaco would have been the one to get the call.

The 26-year-old returned to the PawSox lineup on Monday though, and batted leadoff in the designated hitter spot. He went 0 for 3 in his first outing, but Beyeler said after the game that the idea was just to “get him some swings.” After a day off, Ciriaco hit a home run and had a walk in five plate appearances Wednesday, while playing in the field at second base.

Ciriaco does have past major league experience, playing in 23 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates last season where he batted .303.

Ciriaco said that one of the hardest things about his time with the Pirates was being shuttled back and forth between Triple-A Indianapolis and the majors because he didn’t get to play on an everyday basis. Nevertheless, he still values his time with the big league club and learned a lot from his experiences.

“I feel more comfortable now,” he said. “I just have to prove myself so I can play in the big leagues and do my job over there and just try to be consistent.”

Ciriaco said he knows that his speed and the consistency of his defense in the middle of the infield could be key to getting back to the big leagues.

“I just have to keep doing what I did in spring here in Triple-A, and I know I can do [the same thing at the big league level].”

Alex Wilson takes on new challenge

Alex Wilson is arguably on the cusp of the majors, but it is likely that he will find his opportunity out of the bullpen instead of the rotation. Though he came up through the system as a starter, many predicted his ultimate role to be as a reliever, and the conversion was officially made on Tuesday.

The role of reliever seems to suit his fastball-slider combination well, and may put him on the fast-track for a promotion to The Show. His first relief appearance Tuesday had mixed results though as he allowed an earned run on two hits in his inning pitched. Director of Scouting Chris Mellen was at the game and broke down the outing in his most recent The Book entry.

Wilson dominated the lower levels of the minor leagues--skipping Greenville entirely--but struggled in his initial call-up to Double-A Portland, where he posted a 6.66 ERA over 78.1 innings pitched with a 1.65 WHIP.

“That’s the biggest jump in the minors. It was just a lot of learning how to pitch rather than just throw,” Wilson said. “You can’t just blow fastballs by everybody. You have to learn how to pick your spots, when to use it, when not to mix your speeds up, and you have to be able to locate at all times.”

Wilson was able to take what he learned from his struggles in the second half of the 2010 season and applied it to a successful 2011 season with Portland. He posted a 3.05 ERA over 112 innings, struck out 99 and posted a 1.25 WHIP. He earned himself an end-of-the-season promotion to Triple-A, but has seen mixed results thus far this season.

Pair of southpaws returning to form

Left-handed relievers Rich Hill and Andrew Miller are both nearing the end of their 30-day rehab periods and, for the most part, making it hard not to give them a shot in majors.

Hill had great success at the major league level last season, allowing no runs in 8.0 relief innings before undergoing Tommy John surgery in June. Already well ahead of the normal recovery time for the surgery, he is doing everything he can to force his way into the Boston bullpen.

Opponents are just 5 for 32 hitting against him during the rehab stint with 18 strikeouts in half as many innings pitched. Mellen saw him in his outing on Tuesday and wrote that his stuff looked back to form. Hill made another appearance Wednesday, which was his first time making back-to-back appearances this season.

Miller is rehabbing from a hamstring strain suffered during spring training, and while he has a 5.68 ERA at Triple-A in 6.1 innings pitched, he has been solid minus one bad outing. He also has an impressive 12 strikeouts, but is still battling the control issues that have plagued him throughout his career, as he has allowed 10 walks.

On Monday he had a 1-2-3 seventh inning against Durham with two strikeouts. Beyeler talked about the improvement he’s seen from the 6-foot-7 lefty after the game, saying, “[Pitching coach] Rich [Sauveur] talked to him a little bit and he took some adjustments out there as far as slowing down, staying back a little more. He stayed a little squarer and didn't fly as much. He got on top of the ball a little more today and when he gets on top of the ball, he's pretty nasty. When he's flying open and the elbow's dragging, you have to make some adjustments.”

Odds and Ends

Pawtucket ended a nine-game winning streak with a loss on Wednesday. The streak tied a franchise record … During that streak the PawSox swept back-to-back four-game series for the first time in their history … Garrett Mock and Will Inman lead the team in saves with two apiece. Mock had not allowed an earned run until allowing four on Wednesday while blowing the save and ending the team’s winning streak … Jose Iglesias has batted second in every game he’s played this season … Will Middlebrooks has batted sixth or fifth in every game this season, likely to prepare him for the spot he will end up occupying in a big league lineup ... Lavarnway played catcher in 62 of the 116 (53.4%) minor league games he appeared in last season, so far this season he’s caught in 15 out of his 16 games (93.8%) … The lineup that has begun the game was the exact same one that finished it for the PawSox every time but once this season (pinch runner, April 11).

Elizabeth Dreeson and Matt Huegel contributed to this report. Elizabeth is a Special Contributor for SoxProspects.com. Follow her on Twitter @Eli_Dreesox. Matt is Senior Editor for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegelSP.