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Why you should have cared about Saturday’s Red Sox game: The return of Clay Buchholz, the arrival of Edward Mujica

09.06.14 at 11:49 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.)

Clay Buchholz delivered his third straight quality start on Saturday. (Getty Images)

Clay Buchholz delivered his third straight quality start on Saturday. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Given the unsettled state of the Red Sox rotation, a case can be made that no player’s performance down the stretch is more important to the team than that of Clay Buchholz. And so, it is significant that finally, Buchholz looks like a pitcher who has turned a corner on a year of misery.

On Saturday night, Buchholz sailed efficiently and effectively through the Blue Jays lineup. In 6 1/3 innings, he permitted just two runs (one of which scored after he left the game) on four hits while walking two and striking out five. The outing marked the third straight quality start for the right-hander, the first time this year that the 30-year-old has bunched three such performances together.

In the last month, he’s made six starts, logging at least six innings in all of them and permitting three or fewer runs five times. He has walked two or fewer batters in all of them, with 37 strikeouts and 10 walks spanning 44 2/3 innings.

It is the look of a pitcher who gives the Sox at least one relatively reliable option heading into 2015, a significant consideration as the team tries to decide who to target in the winter.

OTHER REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD HAVE CARED ABOUT THE RED SOX GAME

Edward Mujica recorded his first save since assuming the closer’s role from Koji Uehara, recording a pair of outs (sandwiched around a walk to Jose Bautista).

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Mike Napoli leaves game after two innings due to illness

09.06.14 at 9:25 pm ET
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Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli exited Saturday night’s game after just two innings. He was seen leaving the dugout with a team trainer. In his absence, Allen Craig moved from right field to first base while Daniel Nava entered the game in right.

Napoli singled to lead off the second inning, advanced to third on a single and then scored on a single by Will Middlebrooks prior to his removal from the contest. More on the cause of his removal as it becomes available.

UPDATE: The Red Sox announced that Napoli left the game due to illness. One day earlier, Brock Holt was removed from the Sox-Jays game for the same reason.

Rubby De La Rosa is on the (innings) clock

09.06.14 at 7:53 pm ET
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Rubby De La Rosa

Rubby De La Rosa

Prior to 2014, Rubby De La Rosa had never thrown more than 110 1/3 innings in a season. In 2013, his first full year back from Tommy John surgery, he totaled 91 2/3 frames. And so, entering the year, the Red Sox felt that he was in line for about 140-150 innings as an appropriate goal for the 25-year-old.

On Sunday, De La Rosa seems all but certain to exceed that mark. He’s already accumulated 148 innings (88 in the big leagues and 60 in Triple-A), and as he prepares for his 28th start, he’s navigated not only into uncharted territory but beyond where the Red Sox expected him to be.

And so, the Sox will manage the pitcher’s workload going forward, even as they keep him on a regular turn in their current six-man alignment in order to give De La Rosa the experience of spending a full year in the rotation through the end of September, something he’s never before experienced as a professional.

“We would cut back the innings inside a given start because we want to keep the five day rotation or routine going through the end. … We have a threshold in mind.  As we cut him fairly short last time out, even though I thought he was throwing the ball really well, we’€™re probably going to be a little bit shorter,” said manager John Farrell. “We’€™re not just going to let him go unrestricted or 100-plus pitches. There’€™s a limit in mind that’€™s a little bit shorter than a normal regular season. We’€™ve got a number in mind that is out there as far as total number of innings pitched this year.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox-Blue Jays scheduled for 8:20 p.m. start

09.06.14 at 7:46 pm ET
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The start of the Red Sox‘ Saturday night contest against the Blue Jays has been delayed by the threat of thunderstorms. As the weather system passes the area, the two teams are now scheduled for an 8:20 p.m. first pitch.

Red Sox minor league roundup: Henry Owens’ Triple-A challenge; Travis Shaw mashes; Rusney Castillo makes his mark; electric Eduardo Rodriguez

09.06.14 at 9:52 am ET
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Left-hander Henry Owens allowed five runs in four innings on Friday. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

Left-hander Henry Owens allowed five runs in four innings on Friday. (Jillian Souza/Pawtucket Red Sox)

A brief look at the action in the Red Sox farm system on Friday:

TRIPLE-A PAWTUCKET RED SOX: 7-6 WIN AT SYRACUSE (NATIONALS); WIN BEST-OF-FIVE SERIES, 3-0

(BOX)

— The routine dominance that characterized Henry Owens‘ march through the last two years has yielded to a more challenging reality in Triple-A. The left-hander allowed eight hits (including a homer and two doubles) and three walks en route to a five-run, four-inning outing. He did show the ability to elicit swings and misses, punching out six, and he now has 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings in Triple-A, but there are markers to suggest the challenging nature of the transition Owens has faced from Portland to Pawtucket.

He has a 4.71 ERA in his seven Triple-A starts. He’s now given up five homers in 42 innings with the PawSox, one fewer than the number he gave up in 121 innings in Portland this year. The four innings on Friday matched his shortest outing of the year. The five runs represented his second-largest yield.

Some of Owens’ struggles in Triple-A may represent an adjustment to the level. Some may point to fatigue as he’s now up to 164 innings between the regular season, postseason and All-Star Futures Game, a 21 percent bump from his 135-inning total of a year ago. And some of it simply may be a matter of imprecise execution.

Regardless, the fact that Owens is being challenged in Triple-A likely helps to pump the brakes on the notion of his big league timeframe. The Sox have already stated that he won’t be brought up to the big leagues this month, and the fact that Owens has had to work in Triple-A suggests that he’ll have more to prove at that level in order to position himself for the possibility of a mid-year big league summons.

— Outfielder Bryce Brentz had his second three-hit game of the series, going 3-for-5 with a double. He was 6-for-14 with a walk, two doubles and two strikeouts in the three contests, scoring a run in each game.

— For the third straight game, Travis Shaw had an extra-base hit and reached base multiple times. The 24-year-old first baseman went 2-for-4 with a double and walk, finishing the series 5-for-10 with a homer, two doubles, four walks and two strikeouts. After Shaw hit just .209/.273/.319 to close out the regular season in August, the playoff series represented a very different final note of the year for the 2011 ninth-rounder.

— Catcher Blake Swihart went 1-for-3 with an RBI infield single and a walk, and went 4-for-7 in the series.

DOUBLE-A PORTLAND SEA DOGS: 6-3 WIN VS. BINGHAMTON (METS); LEAD BEST-OF-FIVE SERIES, 2-1

(BOX)

— Center fielder Rusney Castillo had his most impactful game since signing with the Sox, going 2-for-3 with an opposite-field double into the right-field corner, a walk and two runs while playing seven innings. His double came on a first-pitch with a runner in scoring position, suggesting an aggressive approach when given a chance to produce runs.

— Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez logged 6 2/3 innings in which he gave up three runs (two earned) on just three hits (all doubles) while walking two and striking out six. Opponents are now hitting .198 against the 21-year-old in his seven starts with Portland following his July 31 trade from the Orioles in exchange for Andrew Miller. The outing marked the first time with Portland that Rodriguez had given up as many as two earned runs.

Here’s a look at his somewhat electrifying stuff, a mid- to high-90s fastball with an above-average changeup. (His slider, which flashes as an above-average pitch but remains inconsistent, isn’t used in this sequence.)

— Eight of the nine members of the Sea Dogs lineup had at least one hit.

HIGH-A SALEM RED SOX: 5-0 LOSS AT MYRTLE BEACH (RANGERS); LOSE BEST-OF-THREE SERIES, 2-1

(BOX)

— Left-hander Cody Kukuk‘s start lasted just two-plus innings, as the 21-year-old allowed four hits and two walks en route to a three-run yield. He closed out the year with six straight outings of at least four walks. In 21 Carolina League starts, the wildly talented (emphasis on wild) 2011 seventh-rounder issued 75 walks in 80 2/3 innings. He had a 5.47 ERA in Salem. But while that mark makes clear that a big league future is anything but a certainty for Kukuk, from a scouting perspective, his tremendous three-pitch arsenal (mid- to high-90s fastball, wipeout slider, swing-and-miss change … when thrown for strikes) suggests a potential impact arm if he can use his athleticism to lock in his mechanics and throw strikes with any kind of consistency.

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Saturday’s Red Sox-Blue Jays matchups: Clay Buchholz vs. J.A. Happ

09.06.14 at 8:27 am ET
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The Red Sox will play the Blue Jays in the second game of their three-game series Saturday night, sending out pitcher Clay Buchholz to oppose J.A. Happ. This comes after the Red Sox won a thrilling, walkoff win Friday night.

After his ERA eclipsed the six mark in early August, Buchholz (6-8. 5.40 ERA) has pitched well over the last month. He’€™s thrown at least six innings in each of his last five outings, including a complete game last time out against the Rays on Sunday.

Buchholz kept the Rays off balance all game long, striking out six and scattering three hits. Catcher Christian Vazquez credited Buchholz’€™s pinpoint location throughout the contest.

“€œHe was hitting all the spots, every pitch,” Vazquez said of Buchholz. “He was painting every pitch. He was pitching to his best, and it was easy for me.”

The Blue Jays saw the resurgent Buchholz firsthand when they faced him on Aug. 25. The right-hander was nearly as good that outing with 8 1/3 innings of three-run ball, however he did not factor into the decision because he gave up the lead in the last half of the ninth inning.

Buchholz said he was disappointed by letting the lead slip away but was happy the Red Sox came away with the victory in extra innings.

“The most important part is winning ball games, regardless of individual stats or whatever,” Buchholz said. “You definitely don’t want to go out there and give it up in the ninth, but the team was able to fight back.”

This will be the sixth time this season that Buchholz will duel against the Blue Jays. After winning his first start against Toronto in April, he dropped three consecutive decisions against the Blue Jays between May and July. In the three losses, he was charged with at least four runs each time out.

One batter Buchholz might want to be especially careful with is Adam Lind, who has 17 hits in 49 at-bats against Buchholz, including two home runs and three doubles. Shortstop Jose Reyes has a .304 batting average against Buchholz in 23 at-bats.

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Why You Should Have Cared About Friday’s Red Sox Game: This is how the youth movement was supposed to work

09.05.14 at 11:07 pm ET
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Xander Bogaerts

Xander Bogaerts

(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.)

Heading into the month it was a real issue for the Red Sox: How could they get the young players on this roster to actually offer some certainty heading into 2015.

Finally, Friday night offered a big step in that direction.

The grouping of Mookie Betts, Christian Vazquez, Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks all offered something in the Red Sox‘ 9-8, 10-inning win over the Blue Jays that suggested better times were ahead.

The signature moment came in the Sox’ three-run 10th, which led off with the trip of Betts, Bogaerts and Vazquez.

With the hosts trailing by a pair of runs, Betts kicked things off with a single up the middle.

“Leading off an inning, it’s a big confidence booster,” the center fielder said. “Going into the rest of the games into next year, being comfortable late in game situations against their closer, one of their best pitchers, I think it’s a good thing.”

He was followed by Bogaerts’ base hit into left.

“Just coming up that inning it was like Mookie, me and then Vazquez. I was like, ‘€˜Wow, we’ve got three young guys to start something going,'” said Bogaerts, who came into the night hitting .126 with runners in scoring position. “I’€™m glad all of us got something done so the other guys could drive us in.”

Then came Vazquez’ push bunt — into the air and over the charging first baseman — loading the bases. (Earlier in the game the catcher tied Rich Gedman’s club record for most pickoffs in a season, nabbing Melky Cabrera at first.)

“He’€™s an intelligent player,” said Bogaerts of Vazquez. “That was probably on purpose. Smart baseball guy. You don’€™t see that often.”

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