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PAWTUCKET â Despite posting downright gaudy numbers in his shortlived Red Sox stint, Clayton Mortensen was farmed out to Pawtucket because of one simple yet often overlooked factoid.
He still has minor-league options remaining.
Guys like Mortensen, they perform a service akin to a security blanket. To the big-league teams, to have a player with options still on the table, creates the kind of roster flexibility that can prove most handy.
Whenever a need arises, be it adding an extra positional player or a fresh arm the day following a lengthy, extra-inning contest, players with options know that thereâs a pretty good chance theyâre going to be pegged as the sacrificial lamb. As Mortensen explained one day after making room for outfielder Daniel Nava in Boston, itâs a routine in which heâs become rather accustomed.
âItâs still tough because when you go up (to the majors), you want to stay and perform well enough that they canât send me down,â explained Mortensen while sitting in the home dugout inside McCoy Stadium. âWhen they have to make a move, I completely understand. Iâm the one guy who can go back down and get recalled whenever. Itâs part of the game and something Iâve grown accustomed to over the past few years.
âItâs definitely stressful, but itâs only stressful if you let it become stressful. Itâs a part of the game thatâs completely out of your control,â Mortensen continued. âWhat Iâve learned over the years is to not take anything for granted. When you do get that chance to go up there, you go out there without any regrets.â
The Red Sox represent the fourth MLB team in which Mortensen has pitched. Such a high total speaks volumes about his ability, yet also demonstrates that the 2007 supplemental-round selection of the St. Louis Cardinals has faced an uphill climb to stick on a permanent basis.
Such is life when a ballplayer still has options attached to his name. You can perform like Mortensen did over the 9 1/3 innings he tossed for Boston, which consisted of one run coming on a Mark Reynolds homer last weekend, and know that in the back of your mind, a change of scenery is always possible.
âI know I didnât pitch poorly up there. I threw the ball well and did what I was supposed to do,â said the 28-year-old. âThey needed me for that [Mortensenâs stint with Boston began on May 2] and then they needed an outfielder. Iâm not mad about it; I just need to come down here and keep on working.â
This season marks the last time Mortensen will ever experience the feeling that goes with being a human yo-yo. Come next year, there will be a different aura surrounding him â the kind that goes with the territory of having âout of optionsâ stamped on their respective professional careers.
As someone who recently spent time in the same bullpen as Scott Atchison, Mortensen can appreciate how a player, who as recently as 2011 was subjected to frequent call-ups and âsend-downs,â is able to perform free and easy without the threat of options dangling over his head.
Indeed, Atchisonâs name was in heavy rotation on the transaction wire last season, the 36-year-old righty summoned six times to Boston was farmed out in five instances.
Clearly Atchison has taken to the newfound lease on his baseball life, knowing that for a refreshing change, he has some say in his own destiny. He carried a 1.23 ERA spanning 14 games and 22 innings heading into Friday, which also includes 15 strikeouts and opponents hitting .203 against him.
âIâm sure it would be a sigh of relief in the sense that theyâre not going to send me down if I have one bad outing,â said Mortensen about the kind of baseball security that Atchison is presently enjoying.
âYou still have to have to keep that grit inside of you, that youâre still going to keep on competing,â Mortensen added. âMore or less, (being devoid of options) makes it so that they canât shift you up and down as much. Thatâs something that would be a benefit.â
To PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler, players like Mortensen are simply part of a tangled web that will not last forever.
âYouâve got to make a business decision. If youâve got guys that you can send up and down as opposed to guys you might lose, thatâs good business and how the game works,â Beyeler said. âThose are the rules and you play within the rules. Itâs unfortunate for the players, but once youâre out of options, you get to be in those situations where maybe you do get a few more benefits than other guys.â