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Mike Napoli pulling for ex-teammate Josh Hamilton

02.28.15 at 10:15 am ET
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Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli spent two years in Texas with Josh Hamilton when the outfielder was at the height of his powers. He knows what a tremendous talent Hamilton is on the field, which made the news about Hamilton’s looming suspension ‘€“ reportedly for a drug relapse involving cocaine and alcohol ‘€“ all the more sad.

“It’s unfortunate, man. It’s just tough,” Napoli said. “A lot of people deal with things in different ways. Obviously there’s something wrong where he keeps relapsing, but it’s sad. I feel for him and his family. I just wish him the best and hope that he gets better.”

Hamilton had been one of the feel-good stories of baseball, a former No. 1 overall pick who drank and drugged his way of the game before a renaissance in Texas from 2008-12. Since signing with the Angels before the 2013 season, however, Hamilton’s star has burned less bright, and his latest transgression is sure to earn him a lengthy suspension.

Napoli doesn’t remember Hamilton struggling to stay on the straight and narrow in Texas.

“It just seemed like he was living his normal life,” he said. “It was never talked about. We were just regular people. We weren’t talking about what he used to do or whatever. When I was there, he had (accountability partner) Johnny Narron, who took care of him and stuff on the road. There was never any sense that he was going to relapse and go down that path.”

Napoli recalls the Rangers altering their celebrations en route to the World Series in 2011 to accommodate Hamilton’s lifestyle.

“We celebrated with ginger ale, and then he’d leave and we’d all celebrate (with champagne),” Napoli said.

In the end, Napoli hopes his former teammate can find himself again and overcome his addictions.

“Some people just have that personality, where they just feel like they need it,” he said. “It’s hard. I feel for him. I hope he gets on the right path to get back to being a star baseball player, because when he’s right and healthy and on the right path, he’s another league above this as a talent. It’s sad.”

Read More: 2015 spring training, Josh Hamilton, mike napoli,

John Farrell throws a little ‘camouflage’ into the starting rotation mystery while Red Sox look to run more in ’15

02.27.15 at 1:38 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — When three of his projected starting pitchers wound up on the first pitching rotation charts of spring training inside the JetBlue clubhouse Friday morning, John Farrell had some explaining to do. Clay Buchholz and Rick Porcello were listed to pitch against Northeastern in the spring debut Tuesday afternoon, with Wade Miley set to take the hill against Boston College hours later in the nightcap.

Was it a grand conspiracy to hide who he feels is the club’s No. 1 starter from the group of Porcello, Buchholz and Miley?

“Camouflage, it’s a big thing,” Farrell joked.

Farrell then offered the more serious explanation in advance of spring games.

“We also have a doubleheader,” Farrell said. “It’s a matter of getting a number of guys to the mound as early as we can.”

Joe Kelly will start the Grapefruit League opener on Thursday against the Twins and Justin Masterson, who throws live BP on Monday, would be expected to start against the Marlins on Friday.

“We’ve got an overall plan with getting all five guys, really 10 or 11 guys stretched out as starters, to a point in camp where innings are going to be a little less available outside the initial five. We’ll get into that in due time,” Farrell said.

Farrell was asked what will matter most this spring when determining the order of his starters.

“Merit is one. You factor in what’s taken place either the year or years before,” Farrell said. “That’s one factor. You’re also looking at, when you start to slot guys in, if there are pitchers that have anticipated higher innings projections you try to stagger them so you’re not potentially over-taxing a bullpen on consecutive days. And then you’re trying to break things up. If you’re in a three-game series, are giving different looks, based on the style of that starter.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2015 spring training, Boston Red Sox, Clay Buchholz, John Farrell

Morning Fort: Edward Mujica reveals last season’s neck injury; Daniel Nava easing away from switch-hitting

02.27.15 at 10:10 am ET
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Edward Mujica

Edward Mujica

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Edward Mujica was bad in his first two months with the Red Sox. Now we have an idea why.

Speaking prior to the Red Sox‘ workout Friday morning, Mujica explained that besides adjusting to the American League, a probable cause for a subpar April and May was a neck issue.

According to the reliever, he was diagnosed with his C1 vertebrae being out of place by Red Sox medical personnel while taking his physical upon signing a two-year deal. Mujica insisted that it was an issue that wasn’t cleared up until midway through the 2014 season.

“My neck was bothering me when I got here, I got treatment and in spring training I felt good because of the weather,” said Mujica, who carried a 7.29 ERA after his first 22 appearances. “But then I felt sore in the neck because of the cold weather. I was also adjusting to the American League, all the teams have pretty good hitters 1-9. I just kept working every single day, watching videos, got that [physical] adjustment and got going in the second half.

“The figured it out in spring training. The CI was a little moved out of place, but they put it in the right place in spring training to get through the season. With treatment every single day it helped me a lot after the first two months.”

Mujica turned it around in the final three months, posting a 2.30 ERA in his final 34 outings. He also went 6-for-6 in save opportunities after assuming the closers role during Koji Uehara’s performance/injury-induced hiatus.

There was some thought prior to Uehara signing his deal, that Mujica might have crack at competing for the closers role. He will instead once again serve a set-up man to start ’15.

“Last year they gave me that opportunity at the end of the season and I did my job,” Mujica said. “It’€™s out of my hands. It’€™s their decision what they’€™re going to do. I’€™m going to be ready for whatever situation.

“Right now I feel pretty good. I don’€™t think about that. That’€™s their decision. I’€™m going to be out there working hard, trying to do my best when they call me to the mound. Same thing in the season. I’€™m going to be ready to go in whatever situation.”

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Mookie Betts on D&C: ‘I’ll just fill into my role’

02.27.15 at 9:40 am ET
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Mookie Betts

Mookie Betts

Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts stopped by the Dennis & Callahan show on Friday morning to talk about the upcoming season. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Up until last season when he made his debut with Boston, Betts had spent almost all of his time in the middle infield. He was needed in the outfield with the Red Sox, though, and so that’s where he went. However, the Sox since have added to their outfield depth, making his spot on the big league club no sure thing.

“I feel as if I’m just getting ready for the season,” Betts said. “Whether it’s in the big leagues, Triple-A, Double-A, wherever it is, I’m just getting ready for the season and not really focusing so much on making the big league team, just really just getting ready.”

And he’s willing to fill whatever role the team may need him in.

“Whatever [manager John] Farrell and [general manager Ben] Cherington, whatever they do is what’s going to be best for the Red Sox,” Betts said. “And if that’s me sitting and watching, that’s perfectly fine and I’ll just fill into my role.”

Betts hasn’t played a full season in the majors yet, but he said he’s learned a lot from his experience with the Red Sox, namely that much of succeeding in the game is mental.

“I know that it’s a long season,” he said, “and your body kind of wears down after a while, but when your body starts to wear down it’s important to become mentally strong, push your way all the way through until the end.”

Not everyone loves filling the leadoff spot in the lineup, but for Betts, it’s something that “gets him going.”

“I like taking pitches and letting everybody see, seeing everybody know what [the pitcher’s] got and how he’s going that day,” he said. “It’s also good to be in front of the guys who know how to thunder an at-bat and I can score from first, I don’t have to worry about stealing a whole bunch of bases and things.”

And though Betts is part of a large corps competing for a spot in the lineup, the 22-year-old said that doesn’t affect the way he gets along with his fellow outfielders, including Shane Victorino.

“Me and him, we talk pretty much every day because we all do our outfield work together and I’ve talked to him about a whole bunch of stuff,” he said. “I think we’re both looking at it as we’re just getting ready for the season and competing, not against each other, but the other team and whoever’s playing that day or whoever’s playing in general.”

Read More: 2015 spring training, mookie betts,

Joe Kelly, other new Red Sox starters learning rules of spring training road

02.27.15 at 12:35 am ET
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Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Four of the Red Sox five starters had never experienced a spring training outside the organization they signed with prior to this year. Now, Clay Buchholz stands alone as only knowing one club’s approach to preparing for the season.

So now, after a few days of immersing themselves in the Red Sox way, Joe Kelly, Rick Porcello and Wade Miley can take stock of the differences when it comes to training in Southwest Florida.

For Kelly, the indoctrination to life in and around JetBlue Park was helped along the other night on Daniels Parkway (the road that leads to the Red Sox‘ complex).

“Don’t speed,” Kelly said when asked about what he has learned in regards to his new surroundings.

“I got pulled over the other night with my dogs,” the pitcher said. “They thought I was drunk driving but I was telling them to sit down in the back and got pulled over. The cop asked for my license. I didn’t have my wallet or proof or insurance, and he let me go. So it was pretty cool.”

Was his escape hastened by dropping the name of his employer?

“No, I didn’t,” said Kelly when asked if he mentioned he played for the Red Sox. “He got called in for I think a robbery. He was like, ‘I got to go. Drive slow.'”

Other than the difference in speed traps along the roads of Fort Myers and Jupiter, where he previously trained, Kelly suggests the first-time switch in spring training surroundings hasn’t been all that awkward.

“No. It really isn’t. Not really at all, for me,” the Cardinals’ former third-round pick said in regards to the suggestion the new surroundings might seem bizarre. “Same drills. Same kind of way to go about your business. The only thing different are the faces.

“In St. Louis we did more hitting and running and stuff because it was the National League. It’s a little bit easier here because you don’t have to do as much from a pitching standpoint as you do in a National League camp, where you have to take swings every day.”

Porcello, on the other hand, can identify a difference compared to what he came from with the Tigers, the team that drafted the righty with the 27th overall pick in 2007.

“It is different,” he said. “You’re working on the same stuff, but the way you go about it is a little bit different from where I came from. It’s been awesome. The intensity level is high. You get after it. It’s something you don’t see as consistently in other plays.

“It’s definitely more structured, more up-tempo. We’re going hard right from the get-go, right from Day 1. There’s not feeling it out or taking it easy. We’re pretty much going game-speed, making it as realistic as they can make it.”

Wade Miley, the Diamondbacks’ first-round pick in 2008, explained his biggest challenge in entering his new world.

“The hardest thing for me is putting names with faces,” he said. “I was in Arizona since I was drafted, to you know everybody. Now, even some of the players I haven’t gotten name to face yet.”

Read More: 2015 spring training,

How would David Ortiz speed up game? No more instant replay, fewer pitching changes

02.26.15 at 11:43 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Much has been made of David Ortiz criticizing baseball for implementing a new rule preventing hitters from stepping out of the batter’s box in an attempt to shorten games.

But if not the MLB-mandated batter’s box regulation, then how would Ortiz shave time off these games? Appearing on the Hot Stove Show: Spring Training Edition Thursday night, the Red Sox designated hitter offered one of his solutions.

“First thing I would do would be cancel the replay thing,” Ortiz said. “That takes a lot of time. When you have to review a play that just happened, man, sometimes that takes forever. If you call safe or out, they should just leave it right there like it used to be.

“It’€™s taking forever, and we’€™re talking about shortening up the time. It’€™s taking forever. They have to go review and make sure the guy from New York say whatever he has to say. Sometimes you’€™ll be like, ‘€˜Man, this is taking forever.’ €™”

According to an MLB report in the middle of the 2014 season, the average time for a replay was 1:50. One adjustment made to the process for ’15 is the ability for managers to inform umpires they want to challenge a play without leaving the dugout.

Another solution offered by Ortiz to speed things up would be to limit pitching changes made by managers. According to FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal, such an idea was floated by Cubs president Theo Epstein at the most recent GM Meetings.

Epstein’s idea was to make it mandatory that all relievers be forced to face at least two (and possibly as many as three) batters per appearance.

“How about every manager wants to match up every hitter after the fifth inning,” Ortiz said. “That takes forever, too. There’s games you see five or six guys pitching. That takes forever. So, if you’re talking about timing, it’s critical. The time you plan on saving, it’s not going to be saved.”

Also on the show, Ortiz reiterated his stance regarding the batter’s box rule.

To listen to the entire interview, click here.

Read More: 2015 spring training, David Ortiz,

Shane Victorino on switch-hitting: ‘I would like to try it again’

02.26.15 at 5:29 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — There was some uncertainty if Shane Victorino would ever return to switch-hitting. Thursday, he offered some certainty.

The Red Sox outfielder proclaimed after taking batting practice on the Fenway South fields that he would be hitting from both side of the plate this season. Victorino had abandoned hitting from the left side at the end of the 2013 season due to thumb and hamstring injuries.

“Yeah, absolutely,” the outfielder said when asked if he was looking forward to returning to life of a switch-hitter. “Everything feels great. It’€™s something I’€™ve been successful at and that I would like to go back to. The body feels good, and we’€™ll go from there. It’€™s a good thing to have in your back pocket, being able to switch-hit.

“I came into camp, I spoke to them about it and I told them I would like to try it again and they were all for it.”

Victorino did mix in three at-bats as a lefty hitter during the 2013 postseason, but the other 60 plate appearances came from the right side. He didn’t have any at-bats as a lefty in ’14.

“I feel awkward taking BP sometimes, and that’€™s the kind of things I want to work on,” he explained. “It’€™s about feel, it’€™s about path. But I have to get that feel. I’€™ve got to get that understanding of letting myself go. I have time. I’€™ve always been an aggressive hitter, but sometimes I can’€™t control my hands because it’€™s not natural so I have to slow everything down. I’€™m working on those kind of things. But it’€™s more about at-bats and seeing pitches. I feel great taking BP, but once that ball starts sinking, moving and changing speeds it’€™s a different ballgame. But I’€™ve been there before.”

Over his career, Victorino has better success from one side of the plate, excelling as a righty (.865 OPS) more then as a left-handed hitter (.724). His last two seasons (2012-13) as a full-time switch-hitter he had a combined .879 OPS as a right-handed hitter, and .655 OPS as a lefty.

New Red Sox hitting coach Chili Davis is optimistic about Victorino’s return to a practice he began back in 2005.

“From one year to the next, even if you’€™ve done it before, you come back to spring training and you try and refine it,” said Davis, who was also a switch-hitter. “He hasn’€™t forgotten anything. I think the thing with him is that it’€™s going to be such a pleasure to get back on that said and do the same things. All he’€™s doing is trying to retrain himself with the habits he had left-handed. He’€™s going about it the right way.

“I’€™m sure for him, you jump on the right side guys who didn’€™t throw that little slider, now they figure they can play with him differently. He feels good and he works at it. It’€™s probably going to come back quicker than he thinks.”

Read More: 2015 spring training,

Dustin Pedroia can see where David Ortiz is coming from: ‘Baseball’s not a drive-through’

02.26.15 at 5:05 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Dustin Pedroia could only laugh.

When the Red Sox second baseman heard David Ortiz go off on Wednesday about new MLB pace-of-game rules.

“I think it was the first time he heard of it,” Pedroia said Thursday. “The first reaction is always pretty good [from Ortiz]. I just laughed. You never know. That’s his job, though. His job is to hit and, in my mind, I have to go play defense and concentrate on a lot of things. But, when you’re putting a new rule and his main focus is to be in the box, that’s his home. You know what I mean? I can side with him on why he’s upset, but he’ll be fine.

“I’m pretty sure the umpires aren’t going to start yelling at you. They understand. Everybody that’s on that field loves baseball. They don’t want to make it a hurry-up. Baseball’s not a drive-through. We’ve got to play the game and they know that. Obviously, if you get fined, you get fined but we’re trying to play to win and that’s the way I look at it.”

Pedroia was asked if he thought speeding up the game would be good for the game.

“Is it good for the game? We’ll find out. I don’t think we’ve played under the rules yet,” Pedroia said, adding, “I don’t really try to think about it. I don’t know if I get out. I adjust my batting gloves and tighten them. My only thing as a hitter, and obviously the pitchers do it too, we’re trying to think about how and what we’re going to do the next pitch. Obviously, some guys take a little bit longer and some guys don’t. I think that’s the fun part about the game. In our mind, that’s the competition. Him [the pitcher] trying to find a way to get me out and me trying to find a way to get a hit off him. However long that takes, that’s how long it takes. We have a job to do and we’re trying to execute and we know the pitcher has a job to do. I don’t think I take that long.

“I don’t think it’s going to be as bad as everybody’s saying. I’m sure the pitcher and the hitter are going to be ready to play. That’s the way I look at it. I’m sure there’s not going to be a pitch thrown and I’m going to be hanging out in the other on-deck circle. We’re still going to play baseball. That’s the way I look at it.”

Even Red Sox pitchers like Joe Kelly could see where Ortiz was coming from.

“We play a ton of games,” Kelly said. “I understand exactly where he’s coming from. As a hitter, being a professional hitter, it’s probably one of the toughest things to do in all of sports. He’s not taking his time just to take his time. He’s out there and he’s one of the best left-handed hitters in this game. He’s thinking about what the pitcher is trying to do to him, and vice versa. I’m out there on the mound trying to read swings. If I throw a fastball inside and the hitter feels a little bit uncomfortable with his [swinging] motion, I might take a step off the mound and take a breath, ‘All right, is he trying to fool me or is he really going to get beat there today?’ Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2015 spring training, Boston Red Sox, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia

Rusney Castillo knows all about being penalized for stepping out of batter’s box

02.26.15 at 4:36 pm ET
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Rusney Castillo. (Getty Images)

Rusney Castillo shouldn’t have an issue with staying in the batter’s box. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The mystery of what is going to transpire when umpires start enforcing Major League Baseball‘s new rule of not allowing hitters to step out of the batter’s box isn’t a mystery to Rusney Castillo, at all.

As it turns out, Castillo has already gone through such a transition, along with the rest of those playing under the Baseball Federation of Cuba.

The Red Sox outfielder explained Thursday that in an effort to speed up the games (sound familiar) the governing body of Cuban baseball decided to enact the same rule that is creating so much buzz heading into the 2015 MLB season.

“The game used to be really long, but about two years ago they implemented the rule we’€™re trying to implement, with the hitter staying in the box,” Castillo said. “That sped the game up a little bit.

“It did mess with some hitters, but for me, if I’ve got to do it, I’ve got to do it and I didn’t think about all that much. It wasn’t all that difficult for me, personally.”

Unlike the proposed MLB regulation, where the penalty is a warning and a potential fine, the ramification of stepping out of the box in Cuba was a called strike.

(Cuban pitchers also are mandated to throw a pitch within an allotted time span, with somebody — although not publicly-viewed clock — monitoring the seconds. The payment for going over is a called ball.)

“The biggest complaint is that people like to take that time to readjust and refocus,” Castillo said. “It was just happening a little too quick, quicker than they wanted to. They wanted to control the tempo.

“It just took some time, but over the course of a season it just became normal. Now it’€™s just normal. I don’€™t know about a big difference, but it did make a difference.”

Watch the first few pitches of Castillo’s initial professional at-bat, and you can get an understanding of how he has learned to adjust in between offerings:

Read More: 2015 spring training,

John Farrell says ‘it’s likely’ Shane Victorino returns to switch-hitting this season

02.26.15 at 3:29 pm ET
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Shane Victorino is on track to return to switch-hitting in 2015. (Getty Images)

Shane Victorino is on track to return to switch-hitting in 2015. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — If all goes as planned, Shane Victorino will return to switch-hitting this season.

Red Sox manager John Farrell said Thursday that he and the staff have talked to the outfielder about the plan, which will include spring training at-bats from the left side of the plate.

Victorino gave up hitting left-handed late in the 2013 season when he injured his hip running into a wall while chasing a fly ball along the right field line.

“It’s likely that he hits left-handed in games,” Farrell said. “If you think back to ’13 late in the year, he switched solely to the right side because of some physical restrictions. With those being freed up now, the left side of the plate comes back into play.”

In 2014, force to hit right-handed against right-handed pitching, he managed to bat just .241 with a .283 on-base percentage in 90 plate appearances over 27 games. Lifetime, Victorino is .268 hitter with a .329 on-base percentage as a left-handed batter against right-handed pitching.

Farrell said the work will begin as soon as possible so Victorino can get up to game speed with left-handed hitting.

“Every guy is going to be a little bit different. He’s going to take all the extra work that he can physically tolerate. I think until we get into games, it’ll probably be a better read on how many number of at-bats left-handed it would require [in spring training]. But if you think about two years ago in ’13 in spring training, I don’t know if he got a hit in spring training. Open up in New York, he’s got three line drive base hits the first day of season. So again, it’s a matter of getting comfortable with that side of the plate, taking some pitches and taking some at-bats. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2015 spring training, Boston Red Sox, John Farrell, MLB
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