David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Career Stats: 86.2 IP, 80 K, 3.53 ERA, 1.29 WHIP
2013 Stats: 14.1 IP, 18 K, 2.51 ERA, 0.98 WHIP
It's kind of hard to fly under the radar in Boston, but that's exactly what Junichi Tazawa has done for the past year.
Tazawa was very impressive pitching in Japan in 2008 and in the Red Sox farm system for most of the 2009 season, but he struggled considerably when he was promoted to the big leagues—posting a 7.46 ERA in 25.1 innings of work. He then missed all of 2010 and a large chunk of the 2011 season after undergoing ligament replacement surgery.
In 2012, he was pretty masterful in the proverbial "mop-up" role. In his first 24 appearances of the season, the Red Sox either lost or were winning by enough runs that it didn't really matter how Tazawa did. In those 32.1 innings of work, however, he posted a 1.67 ERA with 31 strikeouts and only four walks.
In the final month of the season, he pitched 11.2 innings, allowing one run on three hits with one walk and 14 strikeouts—and picked up a win and five holds while being used in more crucial situations.
Thus far this year, he's picked up right where he left off, averaging better than a strikeout per inning and routinely being used in the late innings of close games.
However, everyone seems more focused on whether Andrew Bailey or Joel Hanrahan will be the guy closing out the games in which Tazawa maintains Boston's lead.