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Want to know toughest part of playing outfield? Let Mookie Betts explain

03.01.15 at 2:17 pm ET
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Mookie Betts

Mookie Betts

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Mookie Betts is finally starting to feel like an outfielder.

Lost in the good feelings of his debut last season was the fact that he posted excellent offensive numbers while learning a new position. A second baseman for virtually his entire pro career, Betts basically moved to the outfield in the big leagues and learned literally on the fly.

It was more of a challenge than the natural athlete expected.

“I didn’€™t know it was going to be as hard as it was,” he said. “I knew it would be a tough adjustment. Being at the big league level and everything, it gets kind of magnified. It was a bigger adjustment than I thought, but I feel like I’€™m taking strides.”

Until playing the outfield, Betts didn’t realize how tricky it was to read the ball off the bat, factor in the pitch type, and then put his head down and run to the spot while trusting he had taken the right route. If all went properly, he’d arrive in time to make a catch. If he didn’t the ball could be rolling around in the gap.

“I didn’€™t realize how hard it was to learn those routes as far as different hitters and what the pitcher is doing and all those things,” he said. “It’€™s a lot to take account for. It’€™s not just running and catching the ball.”

Betts has used BP to train himself to read the ball off the bat, but it’s only useful to a point. His real training will come in game action.

“[BP is] the best I can do,” he said. “Just try to run down everything I can. That’€™s been working for me pretty well.”

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Red Sox notes: Allen Craig may have cracked code; Joe Kelly throwing new pitch

03.01.15 at 2:08 pm ET
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Allen Craig (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Allen Craig is looking for a bounce-back season in 2015. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Allen Craig is very cautious when discussing what went wrong in 2014, and how it might go right in ’15. But he is offering hints that the form which allowed for a combined .863 OPS from 2011-13 is on the verge of returning.

“It feels a lot better in cage work and batting practice,” Craig said following Sunday’s workout. “As far as mechanics and strength, I feel like I’€™m in a really good spot right now.

“I’€™m always cautious talking about it because you don’€™t make excuses for anything, but there are reasons for certain stuff. I think that was kind of my job this offseason, to figure it out. A lot of things started with some leg strength. When you have a weakness with something you try and compensate for it and try to find ways to get the job done, then you find yourself doing things you haven’€™t done before. This offseason was a good chance to look at some video and really physically mechanically to get my body in the best spot to hit the ball hard. I’€™m still working on it, but I feel like I’€™m in a better spot.”

Craig’s comments came immediately after a round of similar optimism from Red Sox manager John Farrell.

“There’€™s much more life in the bat,” he said. “He’€™s come into camp in great shape. The foot isn’€™t an issue at this point and we don’€™t anticipate it to be. We just see increased core strength and better bat speed. I know it’€™s just BP but he looks different than we got him. And let’€™s face it, the shock of the trade is in the rear view mirror now, moreso than when he came to us.”

While Craig didn’t want to get into specifics, he insinuated that the foot injury he endured in ’13 had altered various elements of his lower half. The end result of the injuries, and compensation for the ailments, might have led to a ’14 in which he finished hitting just .128 with a .425 in 29 games with the Red Sox.

And after hitting “a ton in the offseason” at his Southern California home, the first baseman/outfielder feels the combination of improving mechanics and strength is paying off.

“I think any good hitter will tell you the legs are an important part of the swing and learning how to use them properly is really important,” he said. “I’€™m still the hitter that I am. Just some tweaks and giving myself a better chance to succeed. I’€™m not fighting myself.”

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Daniel Nava still flirting with idea of not switch-hitting

02.28.15 at 4:28 pm ET
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Daniel Nava continues to work on hitting from the left side of theplate against lefty pitchers. (Rob Bradford/WEEI.com photo)

Daniel Nava continues to work on hitting from the left side of theplate against lefty pitchers. (Rob Bradford/WEEI.com photo)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Thursday, the Red Sox let Daniel Nava hit left-handed against southpaw reliever Dana Eveland. Saturday, he was in a group that went against another lefty, Tommy Layne.

It’s all part of the process. Where it ends up, Nava has no idea. But he figures this is a good a time as any to at least take a few steps down the path toward hitting exclusively from the left side.

“We’re just seeing if lefty-lefty can be a viable option,” said the switch-hitting outfielder. “There’s only one way to find out, give it a shot.

“Obviously, it’s an adjustment because I’ve never done lefty-lefty and something you’ve never done before is going to be an adjustment period but I’d like to think I can do it based on my approach and not trying to pull the ball, remains to be seen.”

Nava explained in the offseason he had been considering the move for some time, with his splits slanting dramatically in the favor of his work as a lefty hitter. Last year, for example, he hit .293 as a left-handed batter, compared to .159 from the right side.

Red Sox manager John Farrell and Nava said after their team’s Saturday workout that the organization had started conversations with the outfielder about a possible alteration at the end of the 2014 season.

“€œI think it was because last year I struggled from the right side,” Nava explained. “The year before it was all right but last year was a tough year so we thought it was worth a shot.”

He does insist, however, that just because you’ll be seeing him hit left-handed against lefty pitching in spring training (a practice he hasn’t experienced since Little League), that doesn’t mean Nava has dug in on not switch-hitting.

He still has to figure out if this is exactly the best road to go down.

“Just arm angle, way ball comes out, and the way ball moves,” he said regarding the differences he’s noticing when hitting lefty-on-lefty. “Those are things once I get out there — I’ve talked to a lot of guys. I’ve talked to [former major league switch-hitter who changed to just one side of the plate] J.T. Snow as well, as you know he did it. He gave me what he did, as somebody who has walked that road. I’ll try to see what they did and hope that it works.”

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Red Sox notes: Joe Kelly sure knows how to throw a baseball, Christian Vazquez is pretty good at catching it

02.28.15 at 3:59 pm ET
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Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly

FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was a relatively long day for Red Sox players at Fenway South Saturday. First, there was a Major League Baseball-sponsored domestic-abuse education meeting. Then came a morning and early afternoon chock full of drills and activity.

Perhaps the most notable endeavor was pitchers vs. batters showdown. It was the first such occasion that didn’t include the hitters simply tracking pitches.

It was nothing elaborate, with Justin Masterson, for example, throwing 25 fastballs before exiting off the mound. (Pablo Sandoval did take the righty deep on one of the offerings.)

But there were a couple of takeaways that seemed to stand out.

Most notably were the hitters reaction to Joe Kelly’s stuff. The righty starter left an impression on the hitters he faced, which included Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli and Sandoval.

“He’s around the plate, throwing strikes, good curveball and slider. I know it’s still early, but he looked really good today,” Napoli said. “I’ve faced him before during the year. I know what the stuff’s like. He’s just got good arm action, ball comes out of his hand well. He’s good. The ball moves all over the place. He’s just ahead of everyone else right now.

“He has a really good fastball. He just needs to be able to locate it. He’s got a good curveball and changeup. Of the five starters, he might have the best stuff of everybody. He’s just got to put it together.”

So what does Kelly have to do to attain his self-proclaimed goal of winning the American League Cy Young Award?

While Kelly did show flashes of excellence as a starter when getting the chance with the Cardinals in 2013 — going 9-3 with a 2.28 ERA in 15 starts — he has to show it over the long haul, having never pitched more than 126 innings.

“Being a little bit more efficient,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “I think we saw a guy with power stuff. To be a little bit more refined with his command overall should keep him ahead in the count and maybe have hitters hit in more defensive counts. There were times last year a four-pitch walk would be mixed in. As he evolves as a pitcher and knows the consistency required, the focus and concentration will to that pitch count being a little bit more in line with the innings. Hopefully that extends him deeper into individual outings.”

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MLB meets with Red Sox coaches, clarifies batter’s box rule

02.28.15 at 3:51 pm ET
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Torey Lovullo

Torey Lovullo

The batter’s box rule has some clarity.

Representatives of Major League Baseball met with Red Sox coaches this morning to review rules changes for the 2015 season, and one of them dealt with the much-discussed pace of play adjustment requiring batters to keep one foot in the box at all times.

According to Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo, that rule will be interpreted more liberally than first reported.

“It’s not going to be a drastic change,” Lovullo said. “What they’re trying to avoid is the long-term delays where guys are into their routine and doing things outside their preparation. We know hitters are trying to slow the game down, but if it crosses the line, the umpires are going to call it to the attention of the batter.”

So where is the line? There’s more leeway than you might think.

“If there’s consistent abuse, they’re going to say hey, we’ve got to address this,” Lovullo said. “If it’s a pitch that’s taken, called strike or ball, that’s when they want to keep you around the batter’s box. But if you take a swing, or there’s some activity, or a pick(off) of some sort, and you step out of the box and get into your routine, that’s OK.

“I think they want to avoid the guys who get a called a strike, raise their hand, step out of the box, walk around a little bit. That was my interpretation, that they’re trying to get people to stay engaged in that area, but not take away from the routine.

“We have to keep in mind, these players are taught to slow the game down. That ball is moving by them very quickly. I don’t think they want to take that away.”

When the Red Sox open their Grapefruit League schedule next week, they’ll break in the new clock between innings that counts down from 2:25 during local broadcasts and 2:45 during national ones.

“That clock starts when that out in the previous half inning is recorded,” manager John Farrell said. “And when a reliever comes out of the bullpen, as soon as he touches the warning track, that’s when the 2:25 clock starts. Basically it’s standardizing the amount of time allowed.”

The most scrutinized rule is going to be the batter’s box one, though, and Farrell said it’s only there to curb the most egregious offenses.

“Regardless of if a guy is in or out of the box, there’s a natural flow to his at-bat,” Farrell said. “In this case, if his back foot remains in the box and he steps out to adjust the batting glove or to regroup from the previous pitch, I think that’s all within reason. What they want to avoid is the guys walking around behind the catcher out of the batter’s box after a pitch is taken.”
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Commissioner Rob Manfred: ‘I don’t foresee the kind of problems that [David Ortiz] does’ regarding new pace-of-play rules

02.28.15 at 10:21 am ET
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David Ortiz was very outspoken earlier in the week when he became aware of the new MLB rules regarding hitters in the effort to speed up the overall pace of play.

Commissioner Rob Manfred responded to Ortiz’s comments and the new rules in general on Friday when speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston.

Ortiz said during his press conference that he didn’t feel the players were given much input in the changes. Manfred said the MLB Players Association as a whole worked together with the league on it, and he added he doesn’t “foresee the kind of problems” that Ortiz does.

“I think that, across the unit, across the bargaining unit, we will get really good cooperation on pace of game,” Manfred said. “We made the agreement with their certified bargaining representative, and I don’t foresee the kind of problems that Mr. Ortiz does.”

Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal (via Twitter on Thursday) reported the first violation of the new rules would result in a warning followed by the next four being different increments of fines. Rosenthal added there was a possibility of even suspending players if they continue to show “willful disregard” of the rules.

Manfred doesn’t expect to see this action used, at least this season.

“I think that we’re going to work into the pace-of-game rules and you’re not going to see that type of disciplinary action at the outset,” said Manfred.

The Commissioner also said he contacted the union after hearing Ortiz’s comments earlier in the week.

“I’ve had a conversation with his bargaining representative about it,” Manfred said. “I’m sure they’ll reach out to him. I expect at the end of the day we’ll get cooperation there as well.”

For more Red Sox news, check out weei.com/redsox.

Read More: 2015 spring training, David Ortiz, Rob Manfred,

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.”

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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.”

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