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Why you should have cared about Tuesday’s game: Beyond Anthony Ranaudo’s home run struggles

09.16.14 at 10:14 pm ET
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(For the final month of the regular season, “Closing Time” will be called “Why you should have cared,” looking beyond the final score — at a time when losses are arguably more valuable to the Sox than wins (for draft and waiver position) — for either meaningful signs for 2015 or simple aesthetic considerations.)

Anthony Ranaudo has now given up 10 homers in 32 1/3 innings in the big leagues. (Getty Images)

Anthony Ranaudo has now given up 10 homers in 32 1/3 innings in the big leagues. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

It’s easy to jump to the conclusion, based on his initial exposure to the highest level of baseball, that Anthony Ranaudo will struggle to be a big league starting pitcher.

On Tuesday, in the Red Sox‘ 4-0 shutout loss to the Pirates (the 15th shutout loss for the Red Sox this year, the most times the Sox have been blanked since they were shut out 16 times in 1990 and tied for the sixth most times the team has been shut out since 1914), he suffered his third loss in as many starts, giving up three runs on a pair of homers (a two-run blast by Russell Martin and a solo shot by Starling Marte) in 5 2/3 innings. Ranaudo has now permitted 10 homers in 32 1/3 innings in the big leagues, one more than he allowed in 138 innings in Triple-A this year, and he’s struck out just 13 while walking 15 in that time. He’s a flyball pitcher who hasn’t been able to get swings and misses at the big league level.

That’s all fair, but there are a few takeaways from which Ranaudo and the Sox can derive encouragement. First, he’s showing strong mound poise and a consistent ability to compete at the big league level. He’s gotten into the sixth inning in five of his six starts, and he’s permitted three or fewer runs in four of those outings. Secondly, he’s competing even at a time when he’s working to push through a physical wall of a career-high in innings. He’s now up to 170 1/3 innings this year, up from his previous career high of 140 frames in 2013 — a 21.7 percent increase that is unsurprisingly accompanied by some diminution in stuff. Third, he’s showing at least hints of adapting, as suggested by the fact that he got seven groundball outs on Tuesday, showing at times action that suggested the incorporation of a two-seam fastball (or at least something that acted like it) to get his fastball off the barrel of opposing hitters.

Ranaudo’s stuff right now is down from where it was in much of 2013, and even in much of 2014. If, after a healthy offseason, he comes back with a velocity bump and sharper action on his secondary pitches to give him at least some potential for swings and misses, if the intelligent 25-year-old continues to show the ability to adapt his arsenal (he made a number of tweaks this year in Triple-A that demonstrated self-awareness about who he is as a pitcher) to get more regular groundball contact, he has a chance to be an important depth option for the Sox. He’ll likely be in Triple-A to open next year, but there are traits that he’s shown that suggest the potential to be a big league starter if his progress in 2014 represents part of a progression rather than an end point.

OTHER REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD HAVE CARED ABOUT TUESDAY’S GAME

– Left-hander Drake Britton continued to offer evidence that it’s premature to dismiss the potential for him to win a bullpen job for 2015, retiring the lone batter he faced. Opponents are now 1-for-13 against him in the big leagues this year.

– Xander Bogaerts went 2-for-4, extending his hitting streak to nine games during which he’s hitting .405/.425/.676.

– Though Will Middelbrooks struck out twice, he also had a double to right-center on a 1-2 pitch in the ninth inning against Pirates closer Mark Melancon.

– Though Koji Uehara gave up a leadoff double, the 20th extra-base hit he’s allowed this year, he rebounded by striking out the next three hitters, the first time he’s punched out three hitters since July 27.

Red Sox pregame notes: Rusney Castillo to make Red Sox debut on Wednesday

09.16.14 at 7:57 pm ET
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Rusney Castillo will make his big league debut on Wednesday. (Getty Images)

Rusney Castillo will make his big league debut on Wednesday. (Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH — Rusney Castillo is about to become a bit less mysterious.

Castillo will lead off and play center field for Pawtucket in the Triple-A championship game on Tuesday night in Charlotte, NC. Once that contest is concluded, he’ll fly to Pittsburgh to join the Red Sox, with a Wednesday night start in center field in the offing. The initial, brief read on his performance through 10 minor league playoff games — two in the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League, four in Double-A Portland and four more with Triple-A Pawtucket — has been favorable, particularly when taking into account that it had been roughly a year and a half since he’d last played baseball in a competitive environment.

He’s hitting .297 with a .381 OBP, .405 slugging mark, five walks, seven strikeouts and four doubles to this point. The Sox have seen some evidence of the athleticism and energy that scouts have seen for years.

He’€™s an electric player and there’€™s a lot of skills here, it’€™s explosive, it’€™s quick twitch. Looking forward to seeing him in this environment,” said manager John Farrell, who said that, at the plate, “he’€™s handled himself well, and given the time off since he last played competitively, his at-bats have been productive, they’€™ve been consistent.” The defense has also been at least solid according to the reports of Triple-A manager Kevin Boles, with his reads and routes being described as average but with his closing speed permitting his range to exceed such descriptions.

While the early signs have been promising, Farrell suggested that it will be important to recognize that Castillo remains in spring training mode. While he is expected to play regularly, he will play less than everyday (in part due to the gradual buildup of his workload, in part because the Sox still have to work in other outfielders). Meanwhile, a team source said that Castillo is not expected to serve as the leadoff hitter — at least in the immediate term — while getting acclimated to the big leagues.

“I think it’€™s important for us to keep in mind and keep in perspective that it’€™s been a year and a half. He’€™s just kind of getting back into game shape,” said Farrell. “I think the goal going in for the games that he’€™s on the field is for him to just experience the environment. We’€™ve got a little bit of a read on him right now on where his strengths and limitations might be but that’€™s just an initial view. We’€™re still in the getting familiar stage of all this. I think any judgment on my part is reserved until we get to see him more.”

OTHER RED SOX NOTES Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox lineup: David Ortiz remains out as Red Sox open series in Pittsburgh

09.16.14 at 3:36 pm ET
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Red Sox DH David Ortiz, who had to leave Sunday’s game due to a family emergency, remains out of the lineup on Tuesday for the start of a three-game interleague series against the Pirates. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts will remain atop the order, with Daniel Nava batting third and Yoenis Cespedes cleaning up in front of Mike Napoli.

RED SOX LINEUP

Mookie Betts, 2B

Xander Bogaerts, SS

Daniel Nava, RF

Yoenis Cespedes, LF

Mike Napoli, 1B

Will Middlebrooks, 3B

Jackie Bradley Jr., CF

Christian Vazquez, C

Anthony Ranaudo, RHP

Tuesday’s Red Sox-Pirates matchups: Anthony Ranaudo vs. Charlie Morton

09.16.14 at 10:54 am ET
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The Red Sox open up an interleague series with the Pirates on Tuesday at PNC Park. Anthony Ranaudo will get the start against Pittsburgh’€™s Charlie Morton.

Anthony Ranaudo

Anthony Ranaudo

Ranaudo (3-2, 5.40 ERA), who is one of the many Red Sox pitchers fighting for a rotation spot next season, had one of his poorest outings of the season last Tuesday against the Orioles. He allowed four runs in 3 1/3 innings, which included three home runs. Alejandro De Aza hit two home runs and Adam Jones hit one that cleared the Green Monster. Ranaudo has served up eight home runs in five big league starts.

Manager John Farrell said the Orioles did not let Ranaudo get away with anything over the middle of the plate.

“He didn’t get away with many mistakes,” Farrell said after the game. “Where he’s gotten some swing and miss in some previous starts with some mislocated pitches, that wasn’t the case tonight.”

Ranaudo added after the start that hitters have been getting more familiar with his pitches now that he’s had more time in the majors.

“I think this is my fifth start now. Guys have seen film, seen me pitch a couple times,” Ranaudo said. “Those kind of pitches aren’€™t going to fly here, especially late in the season. Fatigue might be setting in. I’€™ve got to be a little bit sharper about some things, make some better adjustments quicker. Obviously they’€™re making adjustments to me now. It’€™s my job to make adjustments to them.”

Prior to his short outing against the Orioles, Ranaudo had a quality start against the Yankees on the road. He threw 5 1/3 innings and gave up three runs back on Sept. 3. A Brian McCann two-run homer was Ranaudo’€™s undoing in that contest.

Though it’€™s a small sample size, Ranaudo has pitched a little bit better away from Fenway Park this season. He’€™s made three starts and pitched 17 1/3 innings on the road, posting a 2-1 record with a 5.19 ERA. So far in the early part of his career, the fifth inning has been Ranaudo’€™s most problematic inning. In the frame, the right-hander has a 9.00 ERA. He’€™s also had more trouble against left-handed hitters, who are batting .300 with a .377 on-base percentage against him.

Ranaudo has yet to face the Pirates in his major league career.

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Why you should have cared about Sunday’s Red Sox game: Daniel Nava, Xander Bogaerts leave quite an impression; David Ortiz leaves early

09.14.14 at 11:26 pm ET
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(For the final month of the regular season, “Closing Time” will be called “Why you should have cared,” looking beyond the final score — at a time when losses are arguably more valuable to the Sox than wins (for draft and waiver position) — for either meaningful signs for 2015 or simple aesthetic considerations.)

Daniel Nava rounds the bases after hitting his sixth-inning grand slam Sunday. (Getty Images)

Daniel Nava rounds the bases after hitting his sixth-inning grand slam Sunday. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

It is no mystery what these last two weeks will be all about for the Red Sox. It’s the same thing they’ve been about since the end of July.

It’s time for what players that are left on this Red Sox roster to offer the right kind of impressions heading into the next games that will count, the ones starting the 2015 season.

Sunday, in the Red Sox‘ series-ending 8-4 win over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium, it was Daniel Nava and Xander Bogaerts who continued to make their cases.

Nava gave the visitors the lead for good with a sixth-inning grand slam, coming with the effects of food poisoning still lingering. It was just the outfielder’s second non-Yankee Stadium home run of the season.

“Just the situation of the game,” Nava told reporters regarding his first-pitch homer. “I’ve faced that guy before. He’s got good stuff. It wasn’t necessarily that I was swinging at the first pitch. I was looking for a pitch in the zone to hopefully drive. It didn’t have to be a baseball. I knew he had a slider and a changeup as well. I wasn’t sitting on a particular pitch. It was just in the zone, and fortunately I got that.”

Since returning to the Red Sox for good — when he re-entered the lineup on June 4 in Cleveland — Nava has resembled the same player the organization fell in like with a year ago. During that stretch, the switch-hitter has hit .304 with a .375 on-base percentage.

Nava’s slugging percentage is down from ’13, totaling four homers and 18 doubles. The lack of punch is the reason his OPS has taken a hit from the impressive .831 mark of a year ago.

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Jonathan Papelbon ejected from game for what Joe West thought was an obscene gesture

09.14.14 at 9:17 pm ET
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Jonathan Papelbon‘s uneasy relationship with Philadelphia fans was amped up Sunday.

The Phillies closer was ejected by umpire Joe West after vigorously adjusting his cup on the way back to the dugout after blowing a three-run lead in the ninth inning against the Marlins. Papelbon executed the act while being showered with boos from the Citizens Bank Park crowd.

After being ejected, Papelbon confronted West, going chest-to-chest with the veteran umpire until West ultimately grabbed the closer’s jersey and ushered him away. (Click here for video of the Papelbon/West confrontation.)

“I told him, ‘You’ve got to go,’ ” West said. “And then he charged out of the dugout and his head bumped into my hat. And I grabbed him and said, ‘Get off of me.’

“The whole thing started because the fans booed him and he made an obscene gesture. He had no business doing that. He’s got to be more professional than that. And that’s why he was ejected.”

Following the game, Papelbon said he wasn’t doing what West said he was doing.

“This is baseball,” he said. “I had to make an adjustment and I did it and by no means am I directing anything at any fans. When I’m out there and in the moment, the fans are irrelevant to me. I don’t see them. I don’t hear them. To me, this is pretty stupid, to be totally honest with you.

“They pay money, they want to see a good game and they have the right to boo and do whatever they want to do, but when an umpire gets caught up in that and starts trying to look for extra things he may think are going on — just umpire the game.”

Either way, the moment didn’t help the reliever’s relationship with his home fans. Remember, earlier this season Papelbon invited Phillies fans to boo him.

Sunday’s Red Sox-Royals matchups: Joe Kelly vs. Jason Vargas

09.14.14 at 11:14 am ET
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The Red Sox will conclude their three-game series with the Royals on Sunday afternoon. Joe Kelly gets the start against the left-handed Jason Vargas.

Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly

After winning his first game in a Red Sox uniform on Sept. 2 at Yankee Stadium, Kelly (3-4, 4.14 ERA) pitched well against the Orioles last Monday at Fenway Park. Despite taking the loss, Kelly struck out six and allowed three earned runs over 6 1/3 innings. Orioles pitcher Miguel Gonzalez was just better, silencing the Boston bats.

“I made some good pitches today when I had to,” Kelly said after the game. “I didn’t make terrible pitches. The other guy threw a hell of a ball game. He’s been pitching like that all year. When you face a guy like that, letting up one run would have beat us today.”

Since joining the Red Sox rotation at the non-waiver trade deadline, Kelly has just one start in which he did not get past the fourth inning, which was almost a month ago against the Astros. Sunday’s game could pose some problems for the right-hander, however.

Kelly has struggled pitching in both day games and on the road in 2014. On the road, his ERA is 4.53 — over one run higher than it is at home. In four starts during the day this season, opposing batters are hitting at a .286 clip, which has led to a 5.96 ERA.

It also will be key for Kelly to make it through the first two innings unscathed. He’s been charged with 21 runs combined between the first two frames of the game. The second inning has been particularly unkind to Kelly, as he has an ERA over eight in the inning. But by the third time hitters face the right-hander in a game, their batting average is just .176.

Kelly has not pitched against the Royals this season, but he has faced them three times throughout his career. He threw one inning in relief last year against them and made two starts against Kansas City in 2012. On June 22, 2012, Kelly threw six innings and allowed three runs at Kauffman Stadium, earning his first career major league win.

Nori Aoki, who played a majority of his career with the Brewers, has the most at-bats and best of any Royals player against Kelly, as his .538 average is tops on the team.

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