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Closing Time: Christian Vazquez goes deep to help put Red Sox in 1st place

05.01.16 at 11:26 pm ET
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Hanley Ramirez and Christian Vazquez celebrate the catcher's two-run homer, Sunday night. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Hanley Ramirez and Christian Vazquez celebrate the catcher’s two-run homer Sunday night. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Christian Vazquez decided to go all David Ortiz on Sunday night.

Two games after Ortiz jumped on a first-pitch slider from Dellin Betances for a game-winning home run, Vazquez executed a similar feat. On Betances very first pitch of the game — a 97 mph fastball — the Sox catcher launched his second career home run over the left field wall for a two-run, seventh-inning game-changer.

The Vazquez home broke open a tie game, helping hand the Red Sox an 8-7 win — and series sweep — over the Yankees. It was the first time the Sox swept the Yanks since Sept. 13-15, 2013.

With the Orioles losing to the White Sox, the Red Sox find themselves with sole possession of first place in the American League East, improving to 15-10. It also marks the first time the Red Sox are five games over .500 since 2013.

The Vazquez wallop helped ease the anxiety left behind by another subpar Fenway Park outing by starter David Price.

The starter’s ERA now stands at 6.14 after he allowed six runs on eight hits over seven innings. It was the third time Price has allowed five or more runs this season, having given up 21 runs in 22 2/3 innings at Fenway Park.

“I don’t know if he’s feeling like he’s got to overthrow, but the pitches are elevated a little more than we’re accustomed to seeing, and even five days ago in Atlanta when he was in the bottom of the strike zone so consistently,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “Tonight is a tough night to pitch. I think both starters had a difficult time with feel and grip of the baseball. I think when you look at his body of work to date in this ballpark, there’s been more pitches elevated than we’ve typically seen, even on the road.”

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Red Sox notes: John Farrell talks urgency surrounding Clay Buchholz; Henry Owens to make next start

05.01.16 at 6:44 pm ET
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Clay Buchholz (Bob DeChiara/USA Today)

Clay Buchholz is winless on the season. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today)

The question was in regard to how Red Sox manager John Farrell viewed his team’s first month of the season, one that it finished at 14-10.

But within the answer, the Red Sox’ biggest uncertainty to date was surfaced: Clay Buchholz?

“Finished better than we started,” said Farrell of his club’s first month. “I think the biggest thing is the guys in our lineup have developed that trust in one another. I the fact that we’ve added to the depth of power arms in our bullpen. We still have room for improvement, we know that. We’ve got to get Clay going, particularly. He’s an important part of our rotation, an important part of this team. We’ve got to get him on track. But this last turn to two turns through the rotation has been more consistent, we’ve been able to give our guys in the bullpen a little bit more regular rest. But there’s some elements to our offense that have been very, very encouraging. The all-field approach and the way we’ve run the bases has been very consistent.”

As Farrell noted, getting Buchholz going would seem to be of the utmost priority considering the rest of the starting rotation’s ERA is a full run better on days the righty doesn’t pitch.

The Red Sox are 0-5 in games started by Buchholz, who has allowed five runs in four of his five outings. The righty’s ERA stands at 6.51.

“I can’t say that it’s a glaring thing from a mechanical standpoint,” Farrell noted. “There are times when we’ve seen Clay execute pitches with a greater conviction to the pitch. There are other times where maybe he’s pitched away from contact maybe a little bit too much, and not attacked the strike zone. To me, there comes a point, or an attitude on the mound, that’s got to be prevailing.”

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Sunday’s Red Sox-Yankees matchups: David Price vs. Nathan Eovaldi

05.01.16 at 7:55 am ET
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David Price

David Price

Red Sox ace David Price will get his first taste of the team’s rivalry with the Yankees on Sunday night when he faces off against righty Nathan Eovaldi in the series finale.

Price has had an up-and-down start to the season, but despite some shaky outings he has not suffered a loss. His record sits at 3-0 with a 5.76 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. In his last outing on Tuesday against the Braves he looked sharp, going eight innings and allowing two runs on six hits. He walked two and tied his career high in strikeouts with 14.

“I don’t care about strikeouts,” Price said after the game. “I just want to go out there and pitch as deep as I can into games. … I just executed whenever I was ahead.”

In 31 appearances (30 starts) against the Yankees, Price is 13-7 with a 4.04 ERA and 1.299 WHIP. He has walked 62 and struck out 173 in 191 2/3 innings.

Eovaldi is 1-2 through four starts with a 4.38 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. In his last outing on Monday against the Rangers, however, he was dominant. He went seven shutout innings, allowing just two hits, and even took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning. The 26-year-old Texas native walked two and struck out six as the Yankees went on to win 3-1.

“In the fifth inning. I realized I had [a no-hitter] going on. Once it’s over with, it’s over with,” Eovaldi said following the outing. “And I just want to try to go as deep in the game as I can. … When it was hit, I thought it was an out. But with the shift, the ball made it through.”

Added Mark Teixeira on Eovaldi’s performance: “We saw tonight what we saw toward the end of last year, and we’d love for that to continue. Uncomfortable swings. You can tell how good a guy is and how good his stuff is by the reaction of the hitters. They’re swinging at pitches in the dirt or they’re swinging at pitches over their heads because it’s just an uncomfortable at-bat.”

In three career starts against the Red Sox, Eovaldi is 2-0 with a 4.24 ERA and 1.412 WHIP. He has walked two and struck out seven in 17 innings.

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Read More: David Price, Nathan Eovaldi, Red Sox, Yankees

Closing Time: Rick Porcello turns in another ace-like performance, Red Sox trounce Yankees

04.30.16 at 10:40 pm ET
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Rick Porcello improved to 5-0 with his win Saturday night. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Rick Porcello improved to 5-0 with his win Saturday night. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Rick Porcello has officially changed the conversation.

The pitcher who was viewed as an underachieving, overpriced starter for much of 2015 is performing along the lines of what the Red Sox had hoped when signing him to a four-year, $80 million extension.

The latest opportunity for Porcello to prove his worth came Saturday night when the Sox starter went at least six innings for a major league-best (among active pitchers) 13th straight start.

When it was all said and done, the righty had gone seven shutout innings, leading the Red Sox to a 8-0 win over the Yankees at Fenway Park. The performance improved Porcello to 5-0 while lowering his ERA to 2.76, the lowest it has been as a member of the Red Sox.

It is also the first time Porcello has claimed an ERA below 3.00 after the first month of the season. With his six strikeouts and one walk, he has now fanned 36 while issuing just six free passes. He has also totaled a 2.03 ERA in the four starts the pitcher has teamed up with catcher Christian Vazquez.

With the victory, the Red Sox will go into May at 14-10. The Yankees, conversely, dropped to 8-14, their worst start after 22 games since 1991.

The offensive highlight for the hosts came with the game seemingly locked up, with David Ortiz hitting his fifth homer of the season for the Red Sox’ fifth run, in the seventh inning.

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Joe Kelly reveals origins of current shoulder issue goes back 7 years

04.30.16 at 8:09 pm ET
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Joe Kelly revealed the origins of his shoulder issue goes back to college. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports0

Joe Kelly revealed the origins of his shoulder issue goes back to college. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports0

Joe Kelly, with help from Red Sox physical therapist guru Dan Dyrek (the man who has helped prolong the careers of both Larry Bird and David Ortiz), has seemingly gotten his shoulder issue under control.

Kelly, who has started throwing off a mound, deciphered that the right shoulder impingement was a product of weakened muscles around his labrum. Now he executes the prescribed strengthening exercises two times a day, a routine he said has already paid off.

“My arm feels really, really good,” said the Red Sox starter, who hasn’t pitched since exiting from his April 19 start in the first inning. “All of the discomfort, and the little bit of pain I had, has pretty much subsided and gone.

“Every time I reached back to throw a pitch, I didn’t have that discomfort. I’m just trying to get that strength back so it doesn’t happen again. Just trying to get all the muscles around the shoulder stronger because they were pretty weak. They were over-compensating and making that impingement.”

But there has been another discovery.

As it turned out, this isn’t the first time Kelly has had to deal with this injury, with his previous approach to dealing with it far less productive.

It was seven years ago, while pitching his final stretch with Cal State-Riverside, that he felt the same sort of sensation. And because of a combination of a lack of information, and the impending Major League Baseball draft, responded in a potentially dangerous manner.

“I had one in college, pretty bad. Same thing,” he said. “I got a bunch of painkillers, and I got a bunch of anti-inflammatories, mixed them together, told my head coach, and told the trainer.”

“We were in a tournament so it was pretty good to hide from the scouts,” Kelly continued. “I had 1 1/2, two weeks off. But there were a bunch of blowouts so there was never a save situation, so when scouts and teams started asking my coach, he said, ‘Look, there wasn’t a save situation and I didn’t want to pitch him.’ Then they asked how I couldn’t pitch for a 1 1/2 weeks, so he said I had been throwing bullpens just to kind of cover for me. But I got shut down for 12 days and then when my pain went away I was only throwing 15-20 pitches. If I threw anything over 20 my coach was yanking because either I blew the save or wasn’t in a good situation. So it was pretty easy to hide, bounce back and recover because there was only 15-20 pitches of straight fastballs.

“It was obvious not the right thing to do because we weren’t fixing the problem, we just masking it. We weren’t trying to get my arm stronger.”

The ailment never completely went away, but, as Kelly pointed out it was, “nothing that painkillers or anti-inflammatories couldn’t fix.”

This time around, with each passing start, the discomfort became more and more of an issue.

“Every time I threw the ball I felt it and it was in the back of my head, thinking about what was going on,” Kelly said. “It kind of got worse and worse and worse and worse. In between starts it would build back up to get pretty close to what I thought was normal and then I would go out and start and it would set me back a little bit. The recovery was longer, longer and longer.”

Now, however, he believes they have found a permanent fix.

“Just knowing in the back of my mind, every time I go back, knowing mentally it’s not there instead of waiting for it to come back was big,” said Kelly of his recent throwing sessions. “I was waiting for the next pitch when it was going to show up, and it didn’t show up.”

Henry Owens was tipping his pitches, so his teammates came to the rescue

04.30.16 at 7:06 pm ET
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Henry Owens

Henry Owens

It wasn’t the only problem in Henry Owens’ debut this season, but it certainly didn’t help.

As it turned out, part of the pitcher’s problems when giving up three runs in 3 1/3 innings during his April 24 outing in Houston was due to pitch-tipping.

With runners on second base, Owens was offering an easy view of what pitch he was about to throw. That, in turn, led to the Astros baserunners signaling in what offering was coming to the hitter.

“CY [Chris Young] first saw it, and then mentioned it to [Clay] Buchholz and he brought me in and we saw video,” Owens said. “This was directly after my outing. We just watched and you could say I was better off just showing [the baserunner]. It was that obvious. So I just changed how I came set.”

Owens worked on correcting the problem in the days leading up to his start against the Yankees, Friday night. And while the results (6 innings 2 runs) were certainly more encouraging, he admits there’s still a ways to go.

It’s why he is scheduled to be joining Young before Sunday night’s game to keep work on hiding his pitches.

“[Friday] night we looked at videos to see. Coming set, there are still a couple of things,” said Owens, who explained he had never previously been identified as a pitch-tipper. “It’s something you don’t necessarily want to think about when you’re trying to execute a pitch. I came a long way in the last five days because we looked at video yesterday and it was really hard to see. Just from Houston to there it was better, and we’ll work on it [Sunday].

“These are elite baserunners out there, especially in the AL East. There are a lot of guys who get advantages. It’s something I’ll work on.”

Saturday’s Red Sox-Yankees matchups: Rick Porcello vs. Michael Pineda

04.30.16 at 8:00 am ET
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Rick Porcello

Rick Porcello

Red Sox right-hander Rick Porcello will look to remain perfect on the season when he goes opposite righty Michael Pineda and the rival Yankees at Fenway Park on Saturday night.

Porcello has a sterling 4-0 record through four starts, with a 3.51 ERA and 0.94 WHIP. In his most recent outing Monday against the Braves, he only needed one run of support to get a win for his team. He threw 6 1/3 shutout innings, allowing just four hits. He walked two and struck out six as the Red Sox won the game 1-0. He looked dialed in and comfortable on the mound from the first pitch.

“It feels good that I’m not out there searching for something and trying to make an adjustment during a game,” Porcello said after the win.

In 11 career starts against the Yankees, Porcello is 5-4 with a 3.66 ERA and 1.248 WHIP. He has struck out 48 and walked 16 in 71 1/3 innings pitched.

Pineda is off to a rocky start in 2016, as his record sits at 1-2 through four starts to go with an ugly 6.95 ERA and 1.59 WHIP. His last time out on Sunday against the Rays was his worst start of the season. He allowed seven earned runs on 10 hits, four of which were home runs. He walked one and struck out nine as the Yankees went on to lose 8-1.

“There were some balls that were middle,” Yankees catcher Brian McCann said of Pineda after the game. “He made some pitches, and then he left some out over the plate.”

In seven starts against the Red Sox, Pineda is 4-3 with a 4.86 ERA and 1.081 WHIP. He has 38 strikeouts to go with just three walks in 37 innings of work.

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Read More: Michael Pineda, Red Sox, rick porcello, Yankees

Closing Time: David Ortiz plays hero in win over Yankees

04.29.16 at 10:04 pm ET
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David Ortiz rounds the bases after his tie-breaking homer on Friday. (Bob DeChiara-USA Today Sports)

David Ortiz rounds the bases after his tiebreaking homer on Friday. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The narrative coming into the 2016 season, even without Aroldis Chapman, was that if you didn’t have the lead against the Yankees heading into the late innings, you might be in trouble.

The Red Sox evidently didn’t get the message.

After laying dormant for the first six innings, the Sox tied it with two in the seventh inning on a Jackie Bradley Jr. two-out, two-run double, then won it thanks to David Ortiz.

Ortiz launched a Dellin Betances first-pitch slider over the left field wall with one out in the eighth inning and Xander Bogaerts aboard. It cemented the Red Sox’ 4-2 win over the Yankees on Friday night at Fenway Park.

“Hey, you know that Betances is one of the toughest pitchers in the league right now,” Ortiz said. “I have like seven or eight at-bats against him without success. I was pretty much watching the whole thing and making up my mind and saw him throw a lot of breaking balls to Mookie [Betts] the first batter he faced. He’s got a great breaking ball. The one that I hit stayed up a little longer than usual. He’s a tough guy to hit and finally I got a good hit.”

Coming into the at-bat, Ortiz was 0-for-7 against Betances, striking out four times. But this time, the Red Sox designated hitter, who now has four home runs, got the last laugh. Ortiz finished with a pair of hits, and is hitting .396 in Sox wins (and just .216 in losses).

The Ortiz heroics was made possible because of Bradley Jr.’s rocket off the left field wall against Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka, who had dominated the Sox through six innings.

But in the seventh, both Travis Shaw and Brock Holt notched opposite field singles, setting up the center fielder’s game-tying hit. The double drove ended the night for the New York starter, who gave up the two runs on six hits over 6 2/3 innings, striking out five and not walking a batter.

“You definitely want to come through in a situation,” Bradley said. “Whatever you can do to help the team win is obviously what you’re trying to do. Like I said, we’ve been fortunate enough to get guys on base in front of me. It’s a team sport. If they weren’t doing their part, I wouldn’t be able to do mine.”

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David Ortiz on improving relationship with Alex Rodriguez: ‘Life is a learning process. … He’s finally getting the memo’

04.29.16 at 5:54 pm ET
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Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz, during happier times in 2011. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz, during happier times in 2011. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

David Ortiz’s feelings toward old friend Alex Rodriguez are finally thawing.

Members of the Mariners organization together more than 20 years ago, the two had a falling out in 2014 when one of Rodriguez’s lawyers suggested a double standard existed between players like A-Rod caught up in PED use and others “who are God-like in Boston right now.”

Ortiz took offense to the sentiment and the fact that A-Rod never disputed it. The two finally spoke this spring at a batting cage in Fort Myers, and on Friday before the Red Sox opened a series with the Yankees, Ortiz opened up about his relationship with his fellow 40-year-old slugger in an interview with WEEI.com.

“I’ve known A-Rod for a long time and I know he’s not a bad person,” Ortiz said. “He’s just surrounded by people that sometimes make him believe that he’s doing the right thing and end up being the wrong thing. But I know he don’t mean anything bad. I saw how he handled his business last year. I think he was honest with himself, finally, and with everything that was going on around him, he finally realized the world doesn’t need him, he needs the world. I’m happy for him.”

The paths of the fun-loving Ortiz and the corporate Rodriguez diverged midway through their respective careers, but Ortiz never lost sight of the Rodriguez he knew as a teen. He believes Rodriguez lost his way en route to superstardom, but Ortiz also believes in forgiveness.

“I’ve known him forever,” Ortiz said. “And like I tell you, people like us, we’ve got to be careful who we have around us, because it can catch us down the road. Everything that has been going on with him, you see that it is somebody else’s fault beside his. Life is a learning process. I’m a huge believer that he’s finally getting the memo.

“I’ve always been a real friend to him, and I’m happy we’re hearing more good things about him than what we normally used to hear. I’m one of the guys, I always look for him getting things done the right way. At the end of the day, I know he’s not a bad person. Just because you make bad decisions does not mean that you’re a bad person. And I know for a fact that’s what’s been happening with him. He’s been poor making decisions, but in the long run, he’s a good guy.”

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Brian Butterfield on Bradfo Show podcast: Talking Hanley Ramirez, laying out Roger Goodell, Patriots draft pick predictions

04.29.16 at 12:07 pm ET
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Brian Butterfield is not a fan of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

Brian Butterfield is not a fan of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

Whatever trepidation Brian Butterfield may have had in regards to teaching Hanley Ramirez how to play first base seems to have left the building.

That much was clear when talking to the Red Sox third base/infield coach on the Bradfo Show podcast.

“Hanley knows what he’s doing,” Butterfield said. “He had a great camp. He worked hard. He’s a quiet workman. He has good instincts. And I think he was really looking forward to getting back to the infield and catching the ball on the ground.

“I think it was evident early in camp that he wanted to improve as a defender. His work was consistent. All he needed really was reps in games, and he has gotten his reps in games. He still needs more. I’m sure there are some things he will bump into over the course of the season that he hasn’t seen from that area of the field. But he’s a baseball player and he’s instinctive. When he sees something once he usually corrects things and doesn’t get beat by it a second time. It’s been good. I’ve gotten to know him a lot better. He’s a good man. He’s works hard. He cares about winning, and he loves being a member of the Boston Red Sox. So far, so good. I have my youngest son coming in tomorrow and I told him I definitely wanted him to meet Hanley because he would be meeting a good man.”

Ramirez is one of five American League first basemen to not make an error, to date. But, as Butterfield explained, while it has been a good start, there is still a ways to go, and more things to experience.

“I think one of the toughest things for guys, whether they go from the outfield to the infield, or switch positions, is anchoring that base and taking throws from other infielders, or taking throws from the pitcher on an attempted pick move,” the coach said. “He’s been very diligent at that. He seems to have caught on really quick. He’s been able to adjust all types of throws from the pitchers and the infielders. He knows when to body up the ball when the throw is low. He also knows when to try to go out and scoop it. It’s been good, so far. And I think he’s gained a lot of trust from his teammates on throwing the ball across, and that’s really important. When those guys from the left side know they can let it go and not miss high and not care about if they miss wide or in the dirt because that guy is going to adjust or dig a ball, that makes them a lot better. I think he has done that to the infielders, especially on the left side.”

Butterfield also admits that watching Ramirez play first base has often times been a unique experience, such as the time he tipped his hat to the crowd during the Fenway Park opener after picking a low throw from Xander Bogaerts.

“That’s a first time I’ve seen it to. He’s got a flair about him,” Butterfield said. “If he was sitting here right now, I would say I don’t agree with all of it. But he’s having a good time, and that’s the most important thing. He’s a guy, when he’s having a good time, he’s a productive guy. I think it’s evident to everyone in the clubhouse he’s enjoying himself, he’s trying to help us win ballgames, he has a smile on his face and it seems like he’s enjoying coming to the park every day.”

On the podcast, Butterfield also discusses the defensive status of Travis Shaw, Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia and even the injured Pablo Sandoval.

As an avid Patriots fan, he also offers his prediction as to who Bill Belichick might draft when Friday’s second round comes around. The names surfaced by Butterfield? Offensive tackle Jason Spriggs, wide receiver Leonte Carroo, running back C.J. Prosise and corner back Kendall Fuller.

And, finally, when asked what he would say to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell if he was sitting across from him as the interviewer, Butterfield would only say, “First of all, you’d be laying on your back.”

BRIAN BUTTERFIELD ON THE BRADFO SHOW

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