Notes: Papelbon's stamina on target
Closely monitored workload has closer strong into final months
NEW YORK -- When Jonathan Papelbon reports to Fenway Park for Saturday's game against the Orioles, it will mark the one-year anniversary of when he walked off the mound with a separated right shoulder and an uncertain future.
And now? Papelbon has never felt better. The numbers back it up. The Red Sox's closer hasn't just been strong of late. He's been electric. He has been essentially untouchable.
Since Papelbon blew a save on July 28 against the Rays, he has made nine outings while allowing one hit and no runs. Over nine innings in that span, he's recorded 17 strikeouts. In fact, entering Tuesday's game at Yankee Stadium, Papelbon had struck out eight of the last nine batters he faced.
All year long, manager Terry Francona has carefully used Papelbon to make sure there would be no duplication of last year's injury. The plan has worked to perfection.
"I think it's a tribute to how I've been used and a tribute to how I've been able to get in and do side work and do delivery work, and I compliment all that to my delivery and being with [bullpen coach] Gary Tuck," said Papelbon. "He's made me realize how important my delivery is. My delivery is there, my arm is there, I don't put the stress on it -- it's a domino effect."
Papelbon has been making hitters fall like dominoes. He's converted 30 of 32 save opportunities this season while posting a 1.74 ERA.
"I feel like everything is just a little bit sharper, a little bit more on time because of the work I've been putting in on my delivery," said Papelbon.
Papelbon hasn't pitched as many as two innings in any of his outings this year. He's pitched on back-to-back days just four times.
In other words, he has plenty left in the tank and feels that the reins can come off in October.
"No question, no question," Papelbon said. "[Francona has] already told me that. He's a smart, smart, smart manager. He knows what he's doing. I think he's done a phenomenal job."
As soon as Papelbon opted to return to closing in late March, Francona vowed to handle him with care. Any manager can say that in Spring Training. Francona, however, has stuck to his promise.
"We were trying to hang on so much and I didn't use very good judgment, and it really hurt us," Francona said. "You try to learn from your mistakes. If you don't, it's an even bigger mistake. We've gotten this year with Pap where he's at August  and he feels great."
Buchholz on Saturday? The Red Sox have not named a starter for Saturday, which has increased speculation that top prospect Clay Buchholz his second start of the season. Saturday is the same day that rosters can be expanded.
"Well, we haven't announced it. It's TBA, still," said Francona.
The Red Sox also have the option of pitching swingman Julian Tavarez, who showed much improvement in his last start. However, if it was going to be Tavarez, the Red Sox would have no reason not to announce that ahead of time. When the Red Sox have to make a roster move to insert a starter, they usually wait until close to the day of the game before making it official.
Buchholz's last start for Triple-A Pawtucket was on Monday, so Saturday would be his regular turn in the rotation. In his only start for the Red Sox, he beat the Angels on Aug. 17, giving up three earned runs and eight hits over six innings.
Gagne improving: Quietly, Eric Gagne has been emerging from his funk. The righty setup man has been unscored on in his last four appearances.
"His last three have been really, pretty good," Francona said, "and that's not surprising. I'm not trying to make light of the struggles when he came, but at the same time, I owed it to not only him but to the team to not cave to popular demand. If we ran away from him, that would have been a huge mistake on my part. I can't do that.
"Rather than run from him, try to help him. He's an easy guy to have faith in. He's such a standup guy. It's really pretty easy -- actually kind of fun. Not fun to see him struggle, but it's encouraging to see a guy handle things the way he did. This guy is pretty standup. It's been kind of fun to see the turnaround."
Speaking of Gagne, this was his first taste of Red Sox-Yankees.
"I expect it's going to be like the Montreal Canadiens against the Quebec Nordiques," said Gagne, a native of Montreal. "I think it's going to be exciting. Any game when you're in the race is exciting."
Mirabelli on track: Backup catcher Doug Mirabelli, who stayed back in Boston for the first two cities of the road trip, rejoined the club in New York and took batting practice. Mirabelli, who has been on the disabled list since Aug. 17 with a right calf strain, is likely to be activated on Sept. 2, when he's eligible.
"I don't see any hangups there," said Francona. "He's moving pretty well, I mean, for Dougie."
Drew gets nod: It was no surprise to see the left-handed-hitting J.D. Drew get Tuesday's start against southpaw Andy Pettitte. He entered the night hitting .429 in 14 at-bats against Pettitte, including two homers.
Also, lefties have hit .303 against Pettitte, while righties are at .273.
Coming up: In a battle of hard-throwing Texans, Red Sox ace Josh Beckett (16-5, 3.21 ERA) will face future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens (5-5, 4.34 ERA) on Wednesday night. The first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.