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Thursday’s Red Sox-Rays matchups: Allen Webster vs. Jeremy Hellickson

09.25.14 at 9:40 am ET
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Allen Webster

Allen Webster

The Red Sox will conclude their series with the Rays on Thursday night, as Allen Webster gets the ball against Jeremy Hellickson at Fenway Park.

Trying to get a rotation spot next season, Webster (4-3, 5.54 ERA) pitched well vs. the Orioles last Friday night at Camden Yards. He pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowed seven hits but just one run in the no decision. The lone Orioles run off Webster came on a Nelson Cruz RBI infield single. Webster said after the game that he wished he had better command of his offspeed pitches early in the contest.

“I wasn’t really locating my offspeed stuff as well as I would have liked,” Webster said. “But later in the game, I started finding it, and me and [catcher Christian Vazquez] just kept pounding the zone.”

The outing in Baltimore was the third quality start of September for Webster. After a 7.28 ERA and 1.65 WHIP in August, the right-hander has rebounded over the final month with a 1-0 record and a 3.18 ERA in three starts. In each outing this month, he’s pitched at least five innings, recorded at least one strikeout and not allowed more than three runs.

The three September starts follow one at the end of August in which the Rays roughed up Webster for six runs on five hits. He lost a little bit of control in that one, as he also hit two batters. James Loney‘s double in the second started a three-run rally, which carried Tampa Bay to victory.

Webster’s other start against the Rays this year came back in July during his first outing of 2015. He allowed two runs and three hits over 5 2/3 innings to earn the win. Both runs scored in the third inning on a Desmond Jennings double. Other than that, Webster limited the damage.

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Why you should have cared about Wednesday’s Red Sox game: A lot of prospect firsts

09.24.14 at 10:52 pm ET
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Garin Cecchini launched his first big league homer on Wednesday. (Getty Images)

Garin Cecchini launched his first big league homer on Wednesday. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Pawtucket still looks better than Durham.

That characterization — noting that the Red Sox‘ Triple-A affiliate beat Tampa Bay’s Triple-A roster in the Governor’s Cup finals — only slightly misrepresents what occurred at Fenway Park on Wednesday night. But it was the case that a prospect-laden group of Red Sox players, only one of whom (21-year-old Xander Bogaerts) has spent all year on the major league roster, blew out the Rays, 11-3.

The contributions from the young or inexperienced players, many of which marked career milestones, were numerous:

— Garin Cecchini launched his first big league homer, reached base three times (once on a walk, once by getting hit by a pitch) and made three plays that showed range to his left at third base.

— Anthony Ranaudo logged a career-high seven innings, allowing two runs on six hits while walking one and striking out two. For the first time in his seven big league starts, he did not allow a homer. The win improved him to 4-3 in the big leagues and 18-7 on the year.

— Rusney Castillo negotiated his first two career walks while also offering a glimpse of his extra gear on the bases when he scored from second on a passed ball. Granted, the bases were loaded and he was running on a 3-2 count with two outs, but his ability to read the play and then accelerate around third gave some insight into the athleticism that drew the Sox to him. His walk came with the bases loaded, resulting in his first career RBI. Read the rest of this entry »

Will Derek Jeter play in Fenway Park? Joe Girardi says it’s ‘up to him’

09.24.14 at 9:37 pm ET
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Those who anticipated one last chance to see Derek Jeter play at Fenway Park this weekend may have miscalculated.

With the Yankees now eliminated from postseason contention following their 9-5 loss to the Orioles on Wednesday, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that the decision about whether or not Jeter plays in Fenway Park will fall to the shortstop.

“I will leave that up to him, very similar to what I did with [Mariano Rivera],” Girardi told reporters prior to his team’s game. “In my mind, I really thought that Mo would want to play that inning in center field and it never happened. So I’ll leave that up to Derek. I don’t see any reason I wouldn’t do it any different.”

Girardi had given Rivera the option of playing an inning in center field in Houston against the Astros. However, the closer decided that his trip off the mound in Yankee Stadium — when he was pulled by teammates Andy Pettitte and Jeter — would be the last time he set foot on a field in a major league game.

Whether Jeter follows suit remains to be seen. When reporters asked him whether he would play in Boston, he said that the contest was too far away to speculate, and that he was focused solely on his next game. That said, it’s worth noting that Jeter’s scheduled final game in Yankee Stadium on Thursday has the threat of rain hovering over it. Jeter went 0-for-4 on Wednesday.

John Farrell: Injuries not solely responsible for Will Middlebrooks’ struggles

09.24.14 at 6:59 pm ET
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Will Middlebrooks is out for a second straight game on Wednesday due to a sprained wrist. (Getty Images)

Will Middlebrooks is out for a second straight game on Wednesday due to a sprained wrist. (Getty Images)

Will Middlebrooks, who was scratched just prior to the start of Tuesday’s game against the Rays, is once again out of the lineup on Wednesday due to soreness in his left wrist. Manager John Farrell suggested that the third baseman is “day to day at this point,” but suggested that the team is hopeful that his season is not over.

We’€™re going to continue to press and push to get him on the field as much as possible in these final five days even though one of them is today and won’€™t be on the field,” said Farrell. Tomorrow, through the weekend, we need to get him on the field as much as possible.”

At a time when there will be just four games beyond Wednesday’s contest, and with Middlebrooks having little remaining opportunity to improve his dreadful season stat line of a .191 average, .256 OBP and .265 slugging mark, Farrell was asked to explain the urgency he expressed for an opportunity to evaluate the 26-year-old further this year.

“More than anything, if a player is capable, we’€™re not just wanting to shut someone down,” Farrell said. “That’€™s not a precedent that we want to set or enable, to be honest with you.”

It has been a year in which Middlebrooks rarely has played at full health. He spent time on the DL with a calf injury. His current wrist sprain is believed to be related to when he got hit by a pitch in May. He lost months to a finger that was fractured by the line drive. The result has been fitful playing time at the big league level, which in turn has contributed to some of Middlebrooks’ struggles to remain in a sustained offensive groove.

That said, Farrell said that it would be a mistake to view Middlebrooks’ struggles as simply the product of injuries. He’s been healthy enough to play. His limited production — particularly the absence of his characteristic home run power (he has hit just two homers in 63 games this year) — is not entirely a function of health, in Farrell’s view.

“I don’€™t think he’€™s been limited any different than other players who deal with nagging ailments over the course of a full season. There’€™s been times when he’€™s been unavailable. To say it’€™s to the extent that he can’€™t go or can’€™t play, we’€™re not at that point,” said Farrell. “He’€™s missed time over the past couple of years as we know. The inconsistent playing time has had some effect. To say that there’€™s something existing here, sure, he’€™s banged up a little bit. Is that the sole reason why the power numbers have dropped? I can’€™t say that it is.”

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John Farrell: Sox ‘see [Mookie Betts] as an outfielder,’ not at short or third

09.24.14 at 5:53 pm ET
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The Red Sox have no plans to put Mookie Betts at shortstop or third base. (Getty Images)

The Red Sox have no plans to put Mookie Betts at shortstop or third base. (Getty Images)

The logic is obvious, almost compelling. At a time when Will Middlebrooks has struggled at third base and the Red Sox don’t appear to have an internal answer at that position to open 2015, why not see if Mookie Betts can play there? It’s a matter that the Red Sox seemingly have no intention of exploring.

Betts is playing second right now because Dustin Pedroia is out for the rest of the season and Brock Holt has been sidelined by a concussion. But when Pedroia is healthy, the Sox envision Betts patrolling the outfield.

“We moved Mookie to second base when Dustin went down for the year. We moved Mookie to center field initially because of Dustin’€™s presence. With Dustin coming back, we see Mookie as an outfielder — not on the left side of the infield,” said Farrell.

Betts actually began his pro career as a shortstop in Lowell, but after a dozen games, he was moved to second (partly because of throwing struggles that yielded six errors in that time, partly because the team drafted Deven Marrero). At this point, the team wants to build on the areas where Betts has focused his professional development rather than introducing a new element to his career that might slow his career progression.

“He was moved off the left side of the infield early in his minor league career because of some changes with accuracy to throws and that type of thing,” said Farrell. “To go back to an area that has already been played, we’€™re trying maximize the current ability and plug him in to a team that can contend and compete as soon as possible.” 
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Buster Olney on MFB: Giants 3B Pablo Sandoval would be ‘really good fit’ with Red Sox

09.24.14 at 2:37 pm ET
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Buster Olney

Buster Olney

ESPN’s Buster Olney made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB on Wednesday to discuss Derek Jeter‘s farewell tour and possible Red Sox offseason targets. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

Asked about the future of promising rookie Mookie Betts, who has played center field and second base in the majors this season, Olney suggested that Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval might be a good fit for the Red Sox, and the acquisition of a player like him would affect where Betts would end up.

“I saw the Giants the last couple of nights, and there’s a lot of anticipation within that organization that someone’s going to make a run at Pablo Sandoval. That team could turn out to be the Red Sox,” Olney said. “He would fit them in a lot of regards. When I talked to some people with the Giants about that, they were nodding their heads and said, ‘You know what? He’d be a really good fit.’ Because he could play third base, and he had a good year defensively. He’s regressed toward the end of the year. You guys now, he’s had conditioning issues, he’s put on some weight during the year. But he squares up a baseball. And if you sign him to a four- or five-year deal and the first couple of years he’s playing third base, and when David Ortiz moves on he could slide into DH. He’d be a nice fit.

“And if you had Sandoval then that obviously changes the equation with Betts. So we’ll just have to wait and see what other moves they make. I think the bottom line is wherever you put Mookie Betts, he’s going to be a good player. The number that really jumps out at me is pitches per plate appearance. It’s almost 4.5. Which means even as a guy in his first days in the big leagues, he’s demonstrating that ability to work the count, to get on base, to be an on-base percentage guy. And I do think we have to remember that after the postseason last year we all thought Xander Bogaerts would come in this year and be a major star, and he’s had some growing pains. And that may be what happens with Betts. But when you talk with people on other teams, they think he’s a legitimate, high-end player who is going to be with them for a long time.”

Another option at third base could be Pirates slugger Pedro Alvarez, who might be available via a trade after having some defensive issues this season before being diagnosed with a season-ending stress reaction in his left foot.

“He is a guy who this year really struggled with his confidence at third,” Olney said. “It seems like he’s got what’s referred to as ‘the thing’ in terms of throwing. And I don’t think if you were the Red Sox you would acquire him with confidence that he could play third base. Now, he is a big-time power hitter. … But I do wonder, when you’re talking about someone who is dealing with a confidence issue in terms of throwing, is Boston the best place for him? That would be one of the questions that I would ask.”

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Wednesday’s Red Sox-Rays matchups: Anthony Ranaudo vs. Jake Odorizzi

09.24.14 at 8:12 am ET
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Anthony Ranaudo

Anthony Ranaudo

The Red Sox will play the middle game of their series with the Rays on Wednesday night when Anthony Ranaudo pitches against Jake Odorizzi.

Despite a quality start against the Pirates last Tuesday, Ranaudo (3-3, 5.29 ERA) was charged with the loss after allowing three runs over 5 2/3 innings at PNC Park. The home run ball did Ranaudo in, as he allowed a two-run homer to Russell Martin in the second inning and then a solo blast to outfielder Starling Marte in the sixth. The latter home run ended Ranaudo’€™s night.

Ranaudo has served up 10 homers this year, accounting for 14 of the 19 runs he’€™s allowed through his first six major league starts. The right-hander said after his latest outing that he needs to change is his pitch selection more.

“I think it’s continuously mixing my pitches better and understanding the strike zone and just being more consistent with my pitches and understanding what some of these hitters’ approaches are and things like that,” Ranaudo said. “I think that’s all going to come with experience, and obviously I’d like to be making the adjustments a little quicker, but it’s something that’s part of the learning process that I just have to do a better job of.”

Of his first six appearances with Boston, one of the best came on Aug. 29 against the Rays at Tropicana Field. In six innings of work, Ranaudo struck out four and allowed three runs in the win. Brandon Guyer did the most significant damage with a two-run home run in the fifth inning. Other than that, Ranaudo pitched well, which earned him praise from manager John Farrell.

“I thought tonight, of the three starts he’s made for us, this was probably the best overall mix of three pitches that he had — particularly a little bit more use of his changeup tonight,” Farrell said of Ranaudo. “A solid night all the way around.”

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