BOSTON -- As the regular season enters its final two weeks, the Red Sox have been getting stellar performances from relievers Hideki Okajima and Scott Atchison.
After missing 20 games with a strained right hamstring, Okajima hasn't allowed any runs over 9 1/3 innings since being activated off the disabled list on Aug. 28. In those 11 appearances, he has scattered six hits, recorded four strikeouts, issued two free passes and lowered his ERA from 5.85 to 4.54.
"Location," manager Terry Francona said of Okajima's improvement. "His fastball, that's always the same. It's 87-90 [mph] every game since he's been here. But when he locates, [it] sets up his offspeed [pitches]. He does some things really well -- like varies his times to the plate, that kind of slide step even when it's a situation where it's not for the runner but it's for the hitter. He's a little sharper than before. You can even see it. It's like his attitude, it's a little bit lighter. He feels good about himself, which is good, because we talked about it for a long time. He's such a difference maker in our bullpen because of his ability to face righties, too."
In 11 innings over seven September appearances, Scott Atchison has given up just one run on seven hits and no walks with eight strikeouts.
"He's been terrific," Francona said. "He was kind of battling for that last spot during Spring Training and he had options, so he was kind of up and down. And we said all along we didn't envision him being that type of pitcher. You need some flexibility in your staff, and he was, unfortunately, the guy. But he throws strikes, he competes. He has the ability to come in the third inning, throw multiple innings. He also has the ability to come in in the ninth and finish off a game. He's done a really good job. [He's] been a nice addition to our bullpen. I think in this day and age you have to find guys like that. Every team's trying to, and he's been a real good find for us."
Atchison, like Okajima, is not a hard thrower, with a fastball averaging around 90 mph, but he gives Francona options in the bullpen.
"I think the general feeling is [if] you have velocity, you create a little room for error," Francona said. "That's probably true for the most part. But you look at [former Sox closer Keith] Foulke's numbers. He was considered a power pitcher. If you look at his numbers, he certainly wasn't, because of the strikeouts per inning, things like that.
"I think out of your bullpen it's nice to have some swing-and-miss [guys]. [Daniel] Bard gives us that and more. But if you have some guys that do different things and complement each other, that's helpful also. If you're short somewhere, it's going to show itself. Over the course of a year, it's hard to have a bullpen that's ... set up like you want to [every day]. It's probably not realistic. But when it's all working, it's nice to have the two lefties, guy that can have swing and miss, guy you can rely on if you run into a problem with your starters, things like that."
Beltre returns to lineup against Orioles
BOSTON -- After missing Sunday's game with a sprained left wrist, third baseman Adrian Beltre went 0-for-3 with an intentional walk in the Red Sox's 4-2 loss to the Orioles on Monday.
Beltre rolled over his left wrist diving for a John McDonald single in the fourth inning of Saturday's 4-3 loss. Beltre stayed in Saturday's game, but he was sent to Massachusetts General Hospital Sunday morning for tests, which revealed he had a mild strain.
"[He's] certainly good enough to play," manager Terry Francona said. "He got checked as we talked about yesterday. Everything's fine. He just has a strain. He had it taped up yesterday and was ready to go yesterday. I don't see anything slowing him down much. If it did, we'll keep an eye on him. But he's not going to say anything."
Beltre, who leads the team with a .329 average and 98 RBIs, has appeared in all but five games for the Sox. Before Sunday, he last missed a game in Texas on July 15, when he was hampered by a nagging hamstring.
Layoff impacts Bard's command vs. O's
BOSTON -- Daniel Bard has thrown 69 1/3 innings this season. It's not an exorbitant increase over the 65 1/3 innings he threw last season. But perhaps the grind of the season is beginning to show, as he has now allowed 14 of 43 inherited runners (32.6 percent) to score.
In eight September games spanning 7 1/3 innings, Bard has given up eight hits and five walks with six strikeouts. His 2.45 ERA this month is impressive, but well above his season ERA of 1.85.
Bard said he does not feel tired. The reasons for his performance in Monday's 4-2 loss to the Orioles could be that he had not pitched since Sept. 14, he said.
"No, I feel good, I really do," he said. "[I] physically felt great. If anything, I think I've had about a five-day layoff, just maybe not as sharp with the offspeed stuff as far as location. [I] just wasn't able to bury the breaking ball or the changeup for the strikeout. But that was the only difference. I felt great out there."
Ty Wigginton's eighth-inning sacrifice fly off Bard scored the first of those inherited runs, and the go-ahead run. Wigginton had a possible explanation for his success against Bard.
"He's definitely got one of the better arms in the game," Wigginton said. "I think the more times you see a guy, the more and more you get a better expectation of what you are going to get. And I think that could have played a major role in it."
Wigginton entered Monday's game 2-for-6 with a strikeout and a sacrifice against Bard. Only the Yankees' Mark Teixeira (4-for-11) has faced Bard more.
Victor Martinez (3-for-4 on Monday) has hit safely in a season-high straight 12 home games, batting .375 (18-for-48) with 15 RBIs. The 12-game home streak matches a season high for any Red Sox player this year, with Dustin Pedroia (June 1-20) and Adrian Beltre (June 3-30). ... Martinez is now 5-for-11 with a home run and three RBIs in his career against Brian Matusz. He is batting .399 (57-for-143) overall this season against left-handed pitchers. ... Bill Hall recorded his second and third outfield assists of the season, throwing out Brian Roberts at the plate in the third inning and Felix Pie at third in the fourth. The two outfield assists are a career high for him. He is the third Sox outfielder with a multi-assist game this season, joining Darnell McDonald on May 8 against the Yankees and Mike Cameron on July 21 in Oakland. ... Beltre's third-inning intentional walk was his 10th of the season, second-most in his career (12 in 1999) and second on the team to David Ortiz's 12. ... Michael Bowden had three strikeouts in the ninth, tying his career high for strikeouts for the fourth time, the first time this season.
Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.