Stephanie Storm

SAN FRANCISCO: With a full head of gray hair and weathered face, to say pitcher Scott Atchison stood out in a crowded Indians clubhouse during spring training would be an understatement.

The reaction of many folks when they spotted the free agent who signed a minor-league contract with the Tribe during the offseason tended to be: “Uh, who’s the old guy?”

But not Tribe manager Terry Francona, whose relationship with the valuable reliever goes back to their days together with the Boston Red Sox.

“Atch can pitch,” Francona said. “He doesn’t beat himself, he throws strikes [and] he’s got late movement. [It’s] just he’s 38 and has gray hair.”

Atchison doesn’t own a glamour role in the Indians bullpen like a closer or set-up man. He doesn’t even have a set role, for that matter.

But his job is just as important to the Indians, as Francona prefers to use the veteran right-hander late in close games when the Tribe is trailing. With Atchison holding the opponent pat, it gives the Indians offense an opportunity to catch up. So far this season Atchison has done that and more, owning a 2.70 ERA and 0.70 WHIP. In nine appearances he’s struck out eight batters and issued only two walks.

“There’s a reason when he was available that we were kind of banging on his door,” Francona said. “Heading into camp, we were going to be surprised if he didn’t have a good showing. You never quite know how the staff is going to set up, but it wasn’t surprising he came in knowing how to pitch.”

But being such a clutch go-to guy over the years has had its drawbacks.

“You don’t want to overuse guys like that because then they get beat up a little bit,” Francona said. “In the past, that’s what’s happened to him. He’s been that 12th guy, so he’s sucked up innings when he probably shouldn’t.”

Stephanie Storm can be reached at sstorm@thebeaconjournal.com.