PAWTUCKET — With regards to his right hamstring strain, Joel Hanrahan feels that he has turned the corner and believes that a return trip to the big leagues and Boston is imminent.
There’s just one piece of unresolved business: Will Hanrahan slide right back into the closer’s role that was his prior to landing on the disabled list, or will he become Andrew Bailey’s chief setup option?
Asked if his role has been determined after working a scoreless inning in Pawtucket’s 6-5 loss to Columbus on Sunday, Hanrahan was the very essence of non-committal. Boston optioned Daniel Bard back to Double-A Portland Sunday, a move that figures to pave the way for Hanrahan to be added to the active roster.
“No idea,” was Hanrahan’s quick-to-the-point response about reclaiming what was his prior his hamstring flaring up.
Acquired from the Pirates last offseason, Hanrahan was less stonewalled when pressed about the job Bailey has done in his absence. Bailey is 5-for-6 in save chances and has racked up 20 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings.
“He’s done that job before and has been a two-time All-Star as well. It’s not like it’s new to him,” Hanrahan. “Those guys have been rolling and hopefully they’ll take me back in whatever role and I can join the fun again.”
In his second rehab appearance for Pawtucket, Hanrahan started out wild, issuing a five-pitch walk to the first Columbus batter he faced. The struggles continued as the burly righthander fell behind the next batter 2-0 before regrouping to get a pop-up that was dropped but still resulted in a forceout.
The next two batters flew out to left field and bounced back to the mound, respectively.
Hanrahan ended up throwing 17 pitches, eight of them strikes. He threw fastballs for the most part with the radar gun topping out at 96 miles per hour.
“I was a little jumpy and excited there, but I was able to step back and get things going,” said Hanrahan. “The main thing is that my leg didn’t bother me and nothing held me back physically. One of my biggest concerns was turning up the intensity and seeing how it goes.”
The time on the sidelines has allowed Hanrahan to tweak his delivery to the point that he’s not applying as much pressure on his legs.
“I could feel something before when I lifted my leg and when I drive,” he said. “I’m trying to keep from turning too much when I lift and felt that I was driving the ball pretty good to the plate. I didn’t have anything hamper my legs.”
PawSox manager Gary DiSarcina expressed that Sunday was a major step in the right direction for Hanrahan. The reliever’s first outing with Pawtucket didn’t go so hot as last Friday saw Buffalo victimize him for two runs on two hits in one inning.
“Much better this time with his fastball command,” said DiSarcina. “When you’re throwing 95 and commanding it, it’s tough to hit.”
Sunday may as well have been dubbed “Rehab Red Sox Reliever Day” at McCoy Stadium. Unlike Hanrahan, Craig Breslow (shoulder tendinitis) was unable to make it through an entire inning. The lefty was pulled with two down in the sixth inning after throwing 26 pitches, 13 for strikes.
Breslow’s outing started out encouraging before things took a turn for the worse. A strikeout on an 89 mph offering and a slow roller to second base gave way to back-to-back walks and an infield single that resulted in a run for Columbus.
Sunday represented a nice change of pace for Breslow, who for the first time was pitching on consecutive days after missing just about all of spring training. He planned to head to Fenway Park after departing McCoy. All signs point to him returning for another game with the PawSox that could take place as early as Tuesday.
“I fee like we’re moving in the direction of executing pitches and developing arm strength,” said Breslow, who has thrown 1 2/3 innings in three rehab appearances thus far. “I feel like if I need to challenge a guy, I have the fastball to beat him. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m getting close.”
Sunday’s starting pitchers didn’t hang around for very long, though both exited the contest for different reasons. Pawtucket’s Terry Doyle had trouble locating the strike zone and as a result was pulled after 3 1/3 innings. Doyle walked six as part of his 89-pitch outing that also saw him surrender five runs on eight hits.
Doyle had permitted just four runs in 25 1/3 frames prior to Sunday’s short-lived assignment.
His counterpart, former Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, was cruising along, retiring the first nine PawSox batters he faced. Then came the fourth inning, which saw Matsuzaka hunch over in pain behind the mound after delivering the first pitch of the frame to Pawtucket leadoff batter Justin Henry. After a visit by the Columbus trainer, a grimacing Matsuzaka headed to the dugout.
Matsuzaka did not field questions afterwards, choosing to leave the exact reason why he exited prematurely under a cloud of mystery.
Pawtucket’s bright spot came in the seventh inning when the power of the long ball helped erase what was a 6-0 hole. Mark Hamilton got the ball rolling with a two-run home run that was immediately followed by solo shots from Bryce Brentz and Dan Butler. It marks the first time since May 14, 1997 that Pawtucket went deep in back-to-back-to-back at-bats.
“It’s pretty cool and neat, but unfortunately we lost,” said Brentz.
Columbus closer Preston Guilmet nailed down the game’s final five outs en route to picking his eighth save.
EXTRA BASES: Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. received a day off Sunday, his first since being optioned to Triple A on April 18. The PawSox also played Sunday’s game minus the services of Brandon Snyder, who according to DiSarcina is dealing with a viral infection. … The series with the Clippers continues Monday with Steven Wright drawing his first starting nod for the PawSox since April 9. He will be opposed by Trevor Bauer, who according to Baseball America is viewed as the 14th-best prospect in the game.