NEW YORK -- With Robinson Cano due up in the eighth inning of Saturday's 11-1 win over the Yankees, Craig Breslow began warming up. When the opponents' best left-handed hitters are up late in games, Breslow can expect to get the call.
Cano grounded out against Breslow, who has allowed just two runs over 14 innings and thinks he's barely getting by without his best stuff.
The 32-year-old got off to a late start this season due to shoulder problems and still feels like he's playing catch up.
So his 1.29 ERA has been lucky?
"I've made big pitches when I've needed to, let's say," Breslow said. "I'm getting there. It's still kind of early, where I feel like I've been getting good results, but I'm not necessarily executing as consistently as I would like. That will come with more repetitions."
One of Breslow's biggest contributions to the Red Sox has been his versatility. While he's left-handed and has dominated lefty hitters to the tune of a .150 batting average, he's also been effective against righties, holding them to a .214 average while flashing the ability to pitch multiple innings.
"Because I'm still trying to play catch up a little bit, the multiple innings has allowed me to throw more pitches and get some more familiarity," he said. "I've come out of those feeling pretty good."
Breslow and Andrew Miller have been the lone lefties in the Red Sox's bullpen for most of the season, though Franklin Morales, who made a spot start in place of Clay Buchholz on Thursday, is expected to be available starting on Sunday.
Miller and Breslow have typically alternated days, which helps them have a better understanding of when they'll pitch and what their roles will be. The determination of roles can be an underrated part of a bullpen's psyche. Since Andrew Bailey has returned to the closer role, it's allowed the other relievers more comfort.
Breslow, on a two-year, $6.25 million contract, has been one of the more consistent relievers in baseball over the past six years and is showing that with the Red Sox.
"I think it was just a matter of him getting his arm strength and him getting past the shoulder issue that hit him in Spring Training," manager John Farrell said. "But he's been a dependable strike-thrower in previous years. He's been that now. When you have a pitcher that can get the opposite-side hitter out, they have the ability to not only gain your trust, but you're not necessarily forced to match up like you might be with other guys.
"His role, his dependability has been a huge boost for this bullpen, and honestly, much-needed."
Iglesias could stay when Middlebrooks returns
NEW YORK -- It looks like the Red Sox could be changing their plans for Jose Iglesias. With a batting average of .431 after going 2-for-5 in Saturday night's 11-1 win over the Yankees, there may not be much of a choice.
While the plan all along had been to keep the slick-fielding shortstop at Triple-A, where he could continue to work on his bat skills until they were proven to be Major League ready, Iglesias' impressive showing with the Red Sox in limited action this season could keep him on the roster when Will Middlebrooks returns from the disabled list on June 8.
"We haven't ruled out that he would remain here in a utility role, so he's been exposed more to third than he has been to second," manager John Farrell said. "Obviously we're more than comfortable with him at shortstop. At some point, if we're to strongly and surely consider him for a utility role, then he's got to get some exposure to second base. The one thing we're cautious of is just the pivot on the double play. I don't know how you can emulate that in early work or in simulated-type situations, but I think most importantly, we haven't ruled out him being in a utility role."
While Iglesias hit just .202 with a .262 on-base percentage with Triple-A Pawtucket, he's returned to the big league club in different form, going 13-for-31 (.419) while primarily playing third base in the absence of Middlebrooks.
The 23-year-old has said it's easier to concentrate with added motivation at the Major League level, and Farrell echoed that sentiment before Saturday's game against the Yankees.
"If a player comes to the big leagues, and I can't say this is the case with Jose, but maybe it's the result of greater concentration and focus from pitch to pitch," Farrell said. "I do know this -- the one thing that he's not doing that we saw in Spring Training or last year is that he's not chasing the breaking ball as much. I think that's a sign of maturity. That's better pitch recognition and maybe what opposing pitchers try to do to him. There's no denying that he's swung the bat very well here."
Should Iglesias get some reps at second base -- a position that Farrell said he'd be comfortable using Iglesias immediately, if needed -- his value as a super-utility infielder would be enhanced. The team's only concern is that Iglesias hasn't had experience turning double plays from second and it could leave him more open to injury as runners slide through the bag. The good news is that Dustin Pedroia hasn't missed a game yet this year, so playing time at second doesn't appear imminent.
Should Iglesias stay, it could threaten Pedro Ciriaco's time with the Red Sox. A year after hitting .293 and shining against the Yankees, Ciriaco has hit .239 in just 46 at-bats.
The tricky part would be finding Iglesias enough plate appearances to keep his bat consistently productive.
"Before that decision is made on where he's at with the roster, we're probably more open-minded to less than everyday at-bats than maybe we were previously," Farrell said.
Ellsbury improving, but held out of Saturday's lineup
NEW YORK -- Jacoby Ellsbury was held out of the Red Sox's lineup against the Yankees due to left groin tightness for the second straight game on Saturday.
Manager John Farrell said Ellsbury, who is still day to day and has shown signs of improvement, wasn't available off the bench.
Ellsbury said he felt stiffness on his fifth stolen base in Philadelphia on Thursday night and was hoping to take a cautious approach to returning. With Shane Victorino already on the disabled list, the Red Sox are short outfielders.
"The improvement that Jacoby has made as far as yesterday to today is very encouraging," Farrell said. "Not ruling out tomorrow as his availability, but still, we've got to monitor and check in with him when he comes to the park. But the improvement is encouraging today."
Jackie Bradley Jr. was in center field for the second straight game Saturday.
Sox taking cautious approach with Victorino
NEW YORK -- There's a chance that Shane Victorino may not be activated Wednesday, the first day he's eligible to return from the disabled list due to a sore back and left hamstring, as originally expected.
The Red Sox need to see how his body responds to increased intensity in running the basepaths before they decide when Victorino will be sent on a rehab assignment and how long he'll stay.
"I'd still like to think that Shane's return to us is going to be right on his activation date or right after that," Farrell said. "He took early BP today with no issue. The thing that we're going through right now is just reconditioning in that lower back/left hip/left hamstring. That's all being tested with increased activity."
Farrell said the Sox aren't slowing down Victorino, who hasn't played since May 20, they're just leaving an open window of time should his body not respond quickly.
"I just have to be clear that as he ramps up the intensity with running, we're going to adjust if need be to how he responds to that," the manager said.
Victorino has swung the bat with no issues.
If his body responds well, he could begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket as soon as Monday.
"We've just got to make sure that we don't rush through the last phases of this to where it might set him back unexpectedly," said Farrell.