Atchison hopes to show that age is just a number
Thirty-seven-year-old righty has sights trained on spot in Indians' bullpen
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- David Aardsma was not going to pass up an easy opportunity to get a jab in at one of his friends. When Aardsma was asked about teammate Scott Atchison on Sunday morning, the Indians reliever did not hesitate.
"He's old," Aardsma said with a grin.
By now, Atchison, 37, is used to this kind of treatment.
There is no escaping his close-cropped graying hair, which makes Atchison look more like a new coach than a reliever competing for one of Cleveland's available bullpen jobs. He has heard all the jokes, but the right-hander has learned to mix in his own wisecracks in the clubhouse.
Out on the mound, Atchison lets his experience do the talking for him. Indians manager Terry Francona had Atchison during his days in Boston, so there is a built-in rapport and level of trust between the two men. Atchison is in camp as a non-roster invitee, but he knows what is at stake and he does not plan on letting age get in the way.
"I try to feed off the youth," Atchison said. "I know I'm older, but I don't feel it. These guys, they give me a little bit of a hard time every once in a while, but I kind of give them a hard time back, too. I was in high school or college when they were being born."
Atchison lets out a slight laugh.
"It's fun," he continued "It's been good so far. Obviously, there's a lot of competition. From my end, I just try to take care of my own business and go out and do what I can do."
There are 20 relievers in camp, though that figure excludes Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin, who could become relief candidates if they do not make the rotation. There are five pitchers viewed as virtual locks for the bullpen and one more, Vinnie Pestano, who appears to have a leg up on the battle for the other remaining jobs.
The Indians will likely begin the year with seven relievers, but Francona showed throughout last season that an eight-man relief corps is also a possibility. That being the case, the Tribe looks to have at least one (and as many as three) open spots.
Francona did not deny that having a history with Atchison helps in terms of giving the veteran some room for error when it comes to on-field results.
"He's earned that," Francona said. "You can't just go on five, six, seven, eight innings in Spring Training. You might have your Double-A team making the Opening Day [roster]. That's why you bring in guys that you trust. There's a reason you trust them. It's because they've earned it."
Atchison, who will turn 38 on March 29, has pitched in 15 seasons as a pro. That includes a tour with Hanshin in Japan for the 2008-09 seasons, as well as stints with the Mariners, Giants, Red Sox and Mets. Over 205 big league games, the right-hander has posted a 3.64 ERA with 192 strikeouts and 71 walks in 255 innings.
Since returning from Japan, Atchison has turned in a 3.47 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 152 appearances. Last year, he had two stints on the disabled list due to right elbow and right groin issues, but Atchison still appeared in 50 games for the Mets. In 45 1/3 innings, the right-hander had a 4.37 ERA with 28 strikeouts and 12 walks.
Indians setup man Cody Allen -- born when Atchison was already 12 years old -- said it could help the bullpen to have such an experienced pitcher in the fold.
"That's an invaluable tool," Allen said. "Throughout a season, guys are going to go through different things. When you have a resource like him just to go through and talk about something, he's been there, he's done it, and he can bounce things off you. He's going to have a pretty good idea of what's going on in your head."
Francona raved about Atchison's ability to eat innings when a team needs it most. That could mean logging multiple frames at a time, or saving the bullpen's top arms some work during extra-inning games or blowouts. As a way to sum up Atchison's attitude, Francona cited a game against the Phillies on June 12, 2010, when Atchison willingly started and logged three innings out of necessity.
"There's just a lot to like," Francona said. "When the [list of non-tendered] names came out [in December], his name was quickly a guy that we really wanted to get in here. It helps when you know him, because the more you know him, the more you realize the kind of kid he is."
Aardsma, who played with Atchison in New York last year, would probably laugh at Francona calling his teammate a "kid." All jokes aside, though, Aardsma agreed that Atchison can offer a lot to a team.
"He's a guy you can always rely on," Aardsma said. "When guys are overtired or guys are trying too hard, Atch is a guy that it's just, 'Do what you do.' He's been there and done that. You always need that in a bullpen."
It seems as though age can't slow Atchison down.
"If I didn't enjoy playing this, I probably wouldn't do it anymore," Atchison said. "I enjoy this. I enjoy being around it. This seems like a great group so far. They kind of keep me on my toes and keep my energy level up."