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Wednesday’s Red Sox-Orioles matchups: John Lackey vs. Ubaldo Jimenez

04.02.14 at 8:18 am ET
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After falling to Baltimore on Opening Day, the Red Sox will send John Lackey to the mound against Ubaldo Jimenez on Wednesday as Boston continues its three-game series with the Orioles.

Lackey heads into his first start of the season in a vastly different light from last year. Instead of taking the mound for the first time in a year after going under the knife for Tommy John surgery, Lackey will get the nod with his last start having come the day the Red Sox clinched their World Series title. During that late-October start, Lackey gave up just one run on nine hits over 6 2/3 innings en route to Boston’s 6-1 championship win.

“I just feel healthy, more than anything,” Lackey said. “There was more confidence not having to worry about how I felt physically. I just had to worry about executing pitches.

“For the most part last year I felt good. It was something [where] I didn’t have to deal with a whole lot of extra treatment and get into a normal routine and perform. I don’€™t know if you ever figure everything out, totally. You’€™re always still learning. But I feel I’m in a good place physically, and when I’m healthy I feel like I know how to pitch.”

The 35-year-old righty heads into Wednesday’€™s game after one of the worst spring trainings of his career as he gave up 13 earned runs over 18 2/3 innings for a 6.27 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. After giving up five earned runs in back-to-back appearances this spring, though, Lackey finished out March by blanking the Twins for 6 1/3 innings.

The last time Lackey faced off against the Orioles was on Sept. 19, 2013, when he hurled a complete game. The veteran pitcher gave up just one run — a solo home run by Adam Jones – on two hits while fanning eight batters during the start. Lackey, overall, carries a 13-5 record with a 3.35 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP against Baltimore.

Unlike Lackey, who is in his fifth season with Boston, Jimenez is making his first start with his current team after he signed as a free agent with Baltimore in February. The 30-year-old Jimenez spent the previous three seasons with the Indians.

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Red Sox minor league affiliate roster analysis: Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox

04.01.14 at 1:58 pm ET
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Anthony Ranaudo (AP)

Anthony Ranaudo (AP)

The Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox roster:

Pitchers

Drake Britton

Rubby De La Rosa

Chris Hernandez

Rich Hill

Dalier Hinojosa

Jeremy Kehrt

Tommy Layne

Anthony Ranaudo

Chris Resop

Brayan Villarreal

Allen Webster

Alex Wilson

Catchers Read the rest of this entry »

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President Barack Obama greets Red Sox at White House: ‘I’m proud of these guys’

04.01.14 at 1:15 pm ET
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The 2013 World Series champion Red Sox were honored on the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday, with President Barack Obama paying tribute to the team for helping Bostonians cope with the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. To hear the ceremony, check the WEEI audio on demand page.

“I’m proud of these guys,” Obama said in a brief ceremony. “As a baseball fan, I appreciate their comeback season. But more importantly, as president, I’m grateful for their character and their embrace of the essential role they played in the spirit of that city.

“Sometimes, sports seems like it’€™s trivial, it’€™s just an entertainment. And then, every once in a while, you’€™re reminded that sports represents something else and it has the power to bring people together like almost nothing can. And all of you should be very proud of what you accomplished. I know your fans are. And I’€™m grateful to you as well.”

Obama noted that Red Sox Nation is well-represented in his administration — “I am surrounded by Red Sox fans,” he said — and he paid tribute to former Mayor Tom Menino and MBTA Transit Police officer Richard Donahue, who was injured in the pursuit of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. Menino and Donahue were in attendance at the White House ceremony.

Obama also acknowledged firefighters Michael Kennedy and Lt. Edward Walsh, who died in last week’s Back Bay blaze.

Designated hitter David Ortiz presented the president with a white Red Sox jersey with the No. 44 and Obama’s name on the back. Ortiz then took a picture with the president — as Obama joked about the “selfie” — and tweeted it out.

Obama, a White Sox fan from his days in Chicago, ended the ceremony by saying, “Good luck this season. May the best Sox win.”

 

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Red Sox minor league affiliate roster analysis: Double-A Portland Sea Dogs

04.01.14 at 10:16 am ET
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The Sea Dogs roster:

Pitchers

Mike Augliera

Miguel Celestino

Keith Couch

Mike McCarthy

Michael Olmsted

Matty Ott

Henry Owens

Miguel Pena

Noe Ramirez

Nate Reed

Robby Scott

Sergio Valdez

Catchers

Mike Brenly

Matt Spring

Blake Swihart

Infielders

Mookie Betts

Sean Coyle

Derrik Gibson

Deven Marrero

Carlos Rivero

Travis Shaw

Stefan Welch

Outfielders Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox minor league affiliate roster analysis: High-A Salem Red Sox

04.01.14 at 9:51 am ET
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Red Sox right-hander Simon Mercedes hit 100 mph in a recent spring outing (John Corneau/Lowell Spinners)

Red Sox right-hander Simon Mercedes hit 100 mph in a recent spring outing. (John Corneau/Lowell Spinners)

The roster for the High-A Salem Red Sox of the Carolina League:

Pitchers

William Cuevas

Dayan Diaz

Luis Diaz

Justin Haley

Brian Johnson

Kyle Kraus

Corey Littrell

Austin Maddox

Kyle Martin

Simon Mercedes

Kyle Stroup

Madison Younginer

Catchers Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox minor league affiliate roster analysis: Single-A Greenville Drive

04.01.14 at 9:15 am ET
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Right-hander Jamie Callahan (John Corneau/Lowell Spinners)

Right-hander Jamie Callahan impressed in spring training. (John Corneau/Lowell Spinners)

The Greenville roster:

PITCHERS

Mike Adams

Mario Alcantara

Jonathan Aro

Jamie Callahan

Jake Dahlstrand

Jason Garcia

Sergio Gomez

Joe Gunkel

Cody Kukuk

Pat Light

Myles Smith

Teddy Stankiewicz

Raynel Velette

CATCHERS

Carlos Coste

Jake Romanski

Jordan Weems

INFIELDERS

Carlos Asuaje

Tzu-Wei Lin

Kevin Mager

Mike Miller

Jimmy Rider

Wendell Rijo

Tim Roberson

Jantzen Witte

OUTFIELDERS

Zach Kapstein

Aaron King

Jesus Loya

Manuel Margot

TOP PITCHING PROSPECTS

Greenville features a reminder that there’s an impressive next wave of pitching prospects behind the current group in the upper levels. Indeed, the crowd with the Drive is such that the Sox were trying to sort out spots and innings for all of their promising pitching prospects, something that may have played into the decision not to have left-hander Trey Ball — the team’s first-round selection (No. 7 overall) in last year’s draft — break camp on a roster.

The upside to a number of players in Greenville is nonetheless considerable, even with Ball, right-hander Ty Buttrey (a 2012 pick who received a $1.3 million bonus) and impressive left-hander Daniel McGrath — whose start of the year has been delayed by recovery from tonsillitis that required surgery — not on the roster. Notables:

– Left-hander Cody Kukuk returns to Greenville, where he was 4-13 with a 4.63 ERA, 9.5 strikeouts per nine and 6.8 walks per nine. Don’t be fooled by the numbers. The soon-to-be 21-year-old has electric stuff, having run his fastball up to 97 mph in extended spring training, and while he had severe command struggles last year, he showed improvement over the course of the year and possesses the type of athleticism and body control that creates at least the potential for a strike-throwing delivery. There may be no player in the Red Sox organization with as big a spread between his potential ceiling and floor. If he can dominate in his return to Greenville, the Sox may have a player who makes a considerable jump in prospect rankings.

– Right-hander Jamie Callahan, a second-round pick in 2012, was one of the head-turners in spring training. He showed a powerful fastball that regularly made it into the mid-90s, a good curveball that elicited swings and misses and a bulldog demeanor about which team officials rave. Now 19, Callahan is coming off a strong performance in Lowell last year when, as one of the youngest pitchers in the New York-Penn League, he went 5-1 with a 3.92 ERA, 8.1 strikeouts and 2.6 walks per nine.

– Right-hander Teddy Stankiewicz, a 2013 second-rounder, will likewise be in the Greenville rotation. He features a four-pitch mix of average pitches with power (he can throw 92-96 mph); if any of those offerings develops into plus, he could develop into a potential No. 4 or perhaps even No. 3 starter. In his pro debut last summer, the 20-year-old had a 2.29 ERA with 15 strikeouts and two walks in 19 2/3 innings.

– Right-hander Mario Alcantara has an electric arm, with the ability to work in the mid-90s. He has yet to find consistency on the mound in the minors, and had a 5-5 record and 4.17 ERA with 7.1 strikeouts and 4.5 walks per nine in Lowell last year, but there’s still upside if he can attack the strike zone.

– Right-hander Joe Gunkel was something of a revelation after the Red Sox drafted him in the 18th round last year, a strike-throwing machine whose low three-quarters arm slot gave opponents fits. He did nothing but get swings and misses or groundballs in Lowell, going 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA, 32 strikeouts and three walks in 20 innings. He’ll work out of the Greenville bullpen, but has a chance to move quickly in the Sox system if he can show anything like what he did in Lowell last year.

– Right-hander Pat Light, a supplemental first-rounder in 2012, returns to Greenville after suffering through repeated groin issues that effectively wiped out his 2013 season. At 23, he will need to show that he can dominate in Single-A to restore his prospect status.

POSITION PLAYERS

Not nearly as deep a group as the pitchers, though the Sox’ best prospect below Double-A will open the year in Greenville.

– Center fielder Manuel Margot represents the one position player with true impact potential in Greenville. Indeed, there had been some thought to having the 19-year-old skip short-season ball and open there last year. But Margot ended up in Lowell, where as one of the youngest position players in the league, he more than held his own, hitting .270/.346/.351 with a homer and 18 steals. Margot has five-tool potential, a great work ethic and approaches the game with energy and dynamism that command notice. He could well break into the Sox’ top 10 — potentially even top five — prospects with a strong year.

– Second baseman Wendell Rijo skipped the Dominican Summer League in his pro debut and was a strong performer in the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League, hitting .277/.367/.375 and showing a solid offensive approach. He’ll continue to be pushed at a pace that is uncommon for his age. The 18-year-old’s ceiling appears somewhat limited, but he shows an ability to hit for average and get on base, making for a potential everyday second baseman in the big leagues down the road.

– Shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin has intriguing athleticism, speed and defensive skills, though he seemed to wilt under the physical demands of his year in Lowell. He hit .226/.312/.296 for the Spinners. If he can demonstrate greater durability that permits some of his physical tools to translate to performance, he’ll solidify his prospect standing.

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Jon Lester: ‘The only thing that could have been better was we win’

03.31.14 at 9:20 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — Monday marked Jon Lester‘s fourth career Opening Day start. It was also his best, even if it concluded with him absorbing the defeat in the Red Sox‘ 2-1 loss to the Orioles.

His previous Opening Day starts had ranged from ugly (2011: 5 1/3 innings, 6 hits, 5 runs, 4 walks, no strikeouts) to solid if not dominant (2012: 7 innings, 6 hits, 1 run, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts) to powerful but inefficient (2013: 5 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts). Though he had never before been charged with a loss in the first game of the season, his 2014 effort exceeded all of those.

The left-hander dominated the Orioles lineup for much of the afternoon. Though he was touched for a run in the second when he issued a leadoff walk to Nelson Cruz, who advanced to third on a Matt Wieters single and scored on a double play grounder, that was the only Orioles baserunner who advanced as far as second base against Lester through the first six innings.

However, with the Red Sox unable to capitalize on any of their numerous opportunities with runners in scoring position, a solo homer by Cruz — a career-long nemesis of Lester — on a first-pitch 91 mph fastball on the inner half of the plate to lead off the seventh inning was enough to give the Orioles a victory. (Cruz, in 27 career plate appearances against Lester, now possesses a staggering .458/.519/1.000 line with three homers.)

Even so, for most of the afternoon, Lester looked very much like the hurler who anchored the Sox over the second half and through October last year. He largely dominated — especially through innings three through six — with a precisely located fastball (which mostly sat around 92-93 mph though it touched a tick or two higher on occasion) and cutter, mixing in just enough changeups and curveballs to keep the Orioles unbalanced. He sailed through seven efficient innings, requiring just 104 pitches (73 strikes) while giving up six hits (all but Cruz’s homer were singles), one walk and punching out eight.

“The only thing that could have been better was we win. Other than that I thought I threw the ball really well,” said Lester. “I felt good, felt pretty good from the start. Missing a little bit the first couple of innings. Really the only thing that hurt me was the leadoff walk in the second. Other than that, gave up a bunch of singles, a solo homer — I like my chances.”

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