Junichi Tazawa has never played a full season in the majors.
So after pitching 41⅔ innings in the season’s first half — nearly equalling his total for 2012 — the 27-year-old felt like he was wearing down a bit.
“I wasn’t physically, but a little mentally wounded,” Tazawa said through a translator.
Over the All-Star break Tazawa relaxed. A few times, he went out to dinner with countryman and fellow Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara.
Tazawa valued those conversations.
“That worked wonders for me,” Tazawa said.
Tazawa’s performance on Tuesday backed that up.
The righthander, who entered the game with two outs in the seventh, retired all four batters he faced — including three strikeouts as the Sox defeated the Rays, 6-2.
Tazawa credited the performance with tips he received from Uehara.
They talked about the way Tazawa gripped his splitter and about Tazawa’s arm angle — perhaps it was getting a bit too low.
They also discussed the mental approach to a taxing season.
On Tuesday, Tazawa faced the top of Tampa Bay’s lineup. Two of the batters — Evan Longoria and Wil Myers — homered earlier in the game.
“That eighth inning, that’s the biggest inning of the game right there,” catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “You’re going through the meat of the lineup, guys that were swinging the bat well.”
Of Tazawa’s 20 pitches, 16 were strikes. Two batters — Desmond Jennings and Longoria — were called on Tazawa’s fastball, which topped out at 95 miles per hour.
“That was what Salty was putting down,” Tazawa said. “A lot of fastballs.”
Saltalamacchia set up a bit outside, “which helped,” Tazawa said.
The Fenway crowd gave Tazawa a standing ovation after he retired Myers to end the eighth. Boston tacked on three runs in the bottom of the inning.
“That inning right there energized us,” Saltalamacchia said. “And got us a couple runs.”
Manager John Farrell said he noticed a change in Tazawa’s mental approach recently.
“There hasn’t been an adjustment delivery-wise or anything mechanically or fundamentally,” Farrell said. “It’s just been more with an aggressive attack mode rather than trying to be a little bit too fine.”
Said Saltalamacchia: “He’s had a lot of games where he’s thrown the ball well and he’s had some games where he makes one mistake and they hit it. Tonight he just hit his spots well. And really, that was key.”
Tazawa has been one of Boston’s most consistent relievers this season. His ERA peaked at 3.31 — and that was back on May 11.
But the 5-foot-11-inch, 200-pounder was showing some cracks entering the All-Star break. In his eight appearances entering the season’s midway point, Tazawa had a 5.87 ERA. In those 7⅔ innings, batters were hitting .333 with 10 hits and two home runs.
“There was a point three or four weeks ago where some fastballs leaked back to the middle of the plate,” Farrell said. “I think he was overcompensating by trying to cut the ball a little bit to keep it away from righthanders.”
On Tuesday, Tazawa delivered with confidence — something the Red Sox will count on down the stretch.
Tazawa’s role as a late inning reliever — and setup man for Uehara — gained extra importance when the team recently lost Andrew Miller and Andrew Bailey for the season.
“It’s not that my confidence level has changed,” Tazawa said. “I’m just gratified that the manager has used me in that kind of position.”
When Tazawa exits the bullpen, a Japanese pop song blasts on the speakers. The song is called “Mogura No Uta,” most closely translated to “Song of the Mole.”
Tazawa said he chose that song because of its upbeat feel.
“The lyrics are very positive,” he said.
The results, lately, have been positive, too.